I like to bake, not deep fry, my eggplant slices — they’re still brown and crispy, but without all the oil. A simple fresh tomato sauce makes a delicious topping for the dish.
2 medium-sized eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmaggiano-Reggiano cheese
2 eggs, beaten (you could just use the whites if you prefer.)
For the sauce:
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 tsp (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen organic; buy low-salt if you can find it)
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper, to taste
For the cheeses: 1 15-oz. container whole milk ricotta cheese (I like Organic Valley brand — if you can find fresh ricotta instead, even better!)
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, OR 2 tbsp pesto if you have some on hand
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Mozzarella cheese – if you use fresh mozzarella, about 12 slices. If you use shredded mozzarella, about 2 cups.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Slice the eggplant and lay it out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Lightly salt the eggplant on one side and let sit for about 15 minutes: this will not make it salty, it just drains some of the water out. Pat dry, flip the slices over, and repeat on the other side. (NOTE: I usually do go through this step, but I’m not convinced it makes a whole heck of a difference. Feel free to try skipping it and let me know how it goes!)
Now, take the eggplant slices off the baking sheet and wipe the baking sheet dry. Using a paper towel, rub some olive oil all over the baking sheet so it gives it a light coating.
Next, you’re going to bread the eggplant slices. In one shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs together. In another shallow bowl, mix together the seasoned breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. One by one, dip the eggplant slices on both sides in the egg mixture, then the breadcrumbs, then lay on the baking sheet. (Depending on the size of your eggplant slices, you may need two sheets – but I usually squeeze them onto one.) Bake the slices for 15 minutes on the first side, then take the sheet out of the oven and flip them over. Bake for another 15 minutes: at the end, they should be golden and toasted.
While your eggplant slices are baking, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the garlic, chopped onions, and red pepper flakes and saute for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cans of diced tomatoes, and let the sauce simmer over medium heat until it thickens up considerably – about 15-20 minutes. You just want to make sure it doesn’t look watery. After the sauce has thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the chopped basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mix together your cheeses: in one small bowl, stir together the ricotta, basil or pesto, and parmaggiano-reggiano cheese. In a separate bowl, have your mozzarella sliced or grated and ready to go.
Now, assemble the dish in a 9×13 baking pan (I like pyrex.) First, spread a thin coating of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish, usually about 1/2 cup. Next, lay half the eggplant slices in the dish, slightly overlapping them if you need to. Top this first layer of eggplant slices with all the ricotta mixture, and half the mozzarella. Spread half of the remaining sauce on top of the cheese. Top with the remaining eggplant slices, slightly overlapping them as before. Finish the dish by topping it with the remaining half of the sauce, then the remaining mozzarella cheese.
Place the dish into the 425-degree oven until it’s bubbling and golden brown on top, about 15-20 minutes.
Makes 6 servings.