Salavatore’s Eggplant Parmigiana differs from American versions as it doesn’t use egg or breadcrumbs on the eggplant and uses much less sauce and cheese. The simple ingredients combined with the dense texture of the layered eggplant and tomatoes results in a delicious, light dish that can serve as a main dish or an accompaniment to grilled meats.
For the Eggplants:
- 2 to 3 medium eggplants (the thin Japanese eggplants are good because you can get more slices in the pan)
- 1/2 cup flour (use more if necessary)
- 1 cup safflower oil
For the Tomato Sauce:
- 1 – 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, whole
- 3-4 basil leaves, whole
- salt to taste (fine)
For the Parmigiana:
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- 16 ounces mozzarella, low moisture (you can use fresh, but it will change the texture of the parmigiana), thinly sliced or shredded
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
For the eggplant:
- Wash and dry the eggplants. Slice off the cap end and then slice the eggplants lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Salvatore then immediately dredges the slices in flour. Another option: Arrange the slices on large trays or baking sheets lined with several layers of paper towels, and sprinkle them with lightly coarse salt on both sides. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the salt draw out the excess water. (You can also stack the slices in a large colander, set in a sink, with salt sprinkled between each layer.)
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Salvatore taught us a little trick to tell when the oil is hot enough for frying: stand the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil and if oil bubbles all around the handle, it’s ready!
- Fry the floured eggplant slices a few at a time until just golden (3-5 minutes), set to drain on paper towels.
For the tomato sauce:
- Pour the tomatoes into a large skillet or saucepan, add the whole garlic cloves and the basil leaves. Italians do not use as much garlic as is commonly thought, they prefer to have the flavor infused into sauces, and don’t add minced garlic.
- Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, pressing the tomatoes down with the back of a wooden spoon as they cook.
- Season with salt to taste and set aside to cool.
To assemble the parmigiana:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
- Place 2-3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and spread evenly.
- Cover bottom of the pan with eggplant rounds, and top about 2 tablespoons each of cheese, 2-3 tablespoons of sauce, and a few torn basil leaves. This is where Salvatore’s version differs from most others, a minimum amount of cheese and sauce are used so the eggplant is the star of the show.
- Repeat for 4-5 layers depending on remaining ingredients. End with cheese on top.
- Bake 45-60 minutes until heated through and bubbly.
- Let cool slightly before serving.