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Eggplant Parmigiana

Likely originating from Campania, and more specifically Naples—positioned in the ankle of Italy’s so-called “boot”—this iconic dish mainly falls back on a trifecta of simple ingredients: pan-fried eggplant, red sauce, and cheese. But from there, regions, cooks, and generations have put their own spin on the specialty. Some cooks batter the eggplant in flour or a mixture of egg and bread crumbs, others fry the slices plain. In parts of Calabria, I’ve eaten it with slices of hard-boiled eggs and thin pieces of prosciutto strewn through the layers. Many add fresh basil to the sauce or between the layers of eggplant. And I’ve seen a number of cheeses used, from mozzarella (a given) to provolone, grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano, or even ricotta—which would have been utter sacrilege in my family. In Campania and Sicily, you’ll even see dishes by the name of parmigiana made with thinly sliced zucchini or even artichokes instead of eggplant. Here’s how to get it right.

Slice the Eggplant Thinly

Eggplant naysayers will usually complain about its unique texture, which can feel at times like a cross between a meat and a vegetable. Fans love that about eggplant, how it rides the line between light and hearty. To get the consistency right when layering—that is, to make sure eggplant parm is easily cuttable and neither soggy nor overly raw—cut the slices thinly and evenly with care. Peel most of the eggplant’s skin (a few strips are okay), and use a very sharp knife to slice. Each piece should be no more than ¼ inch thick, and ideally a little thinner than that. If you end up with any particularly thick pieces, slice them in half again or consider omitting them.

Pre-Season Your Dredge

Setting up a dredging station for battering and frying eggplant will save you time and help stave off a kitchen mess. But be sure to season each part of the dredge independently for the greatest overall flavor. My grandma’s recipe used a light coating of bread crumbs and some beaten eggs, so I season each of these components generously with salt before coating and frying. This rule about seasoning ingredients independently applies to each element of eggplant parmigiana—you should also season the tomato sauce well before layering the dish to bake.

Don’t Oversauce, or Overcheese

The one thing I’d hear over and over in my grandma’s kitchen when making parmigiana with her was: “Not too much!” Because there are so many layers to the dish, restraint when adding sauce and cheese will yield a better, more eggplant-forward parm, and a less soggy and gooey one. Spoon and spread just enough sauce onto each layer to lightly cover it, and use a light hand with cheese, sprinkling—never blanketing—the shredded mozzarella between layers. The place to add the most cheese is at the top, where it will melt under the oven’s heat to form a beautiful, bronzed covering.

Work in Stages

A family-sized portion of eggplant parmigiana can take about three hours from start to finish, and it’s most easily done with a partner who can cook the sauce or batter more eggplant slices while you’re pan-frying. But, as you can easily break up the steps into phases, thinking ahead to do so can help keep this dish easy and weeknight-friendly. You can cook the sauce up to a few days ahead, and fry the eggplant slices up to a few hours or even a day before. You can fully assemble eggplant parm, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to a day before baking and serving. If you do chill eggplant parmigiana before baking, add a few minutes to the bake time to be sure it’s fully heated through and the cheese is melted.

Eggplant Parmigiana Recipe

Yield: serves 8 to 12
Time: 3 hours

For the sauce:

• Fresh tomatoes (CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE)


• 2 (1 kg.) cans plum tomatoes with their juices
• 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper

For the eggplant:

• 3 large eggs
• Salt
• 1¼ cup dried plain fine bread crumbs
• 1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, or equal parts dried basil, dried rosemary, and dried oregano
• 3 medium eggplants (about 1,3 kg. total), mostly peeled except for a few strips of skin, sliced into thin rounds slightly thinner than 5/6 mm.
• About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1½ cups (about 400 gr.) shredded mozzarella cheese (not fresh)
• 3 Tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano


• Make the tomato sauce: (CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE)


1. Make the sauce: In a blender, pulse the tomatoes and their juices until just slightly chunky. In a medium–large (4-quart or so) heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, add the oil and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is softened slightly and fragrant but not yet browned, about 4 minutes. Pour in the puréed tomato mixture and season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened slightly, at least 1 to 1½ hours. The sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

2. Bread the eggplant: In a medium baking dish or wide shallow bowl, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon water. Season with a generous pinch of salt. In a second baking dish or bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Working with one or two at a time, dredge the eggplant slices in the egg wash and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Transfer to the bread crumbs and coat very lightly on each side.

3. Line a large baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels and set by the stove. In a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, heat ½ cup oil until shimmering. Turn the heat down to medium and add some eggplant slices in a single layer until the skillet is full. Cook, turning once, until well browned on each side, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, working in batches as needed and adding a little more oil every other batch, or as needed. As you work, continue to add layers of paper towels between the eggplant slices so they remain separate. The fried eggplant can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 1 day.

4. In a 25-by-33-cm baking dish, ladle ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sauce into the bottom. Cover the sauce with a single layer of eggplant (start with the thickest ones on the bottom and save the prettiest slices for the top). Ladle another ½ cup sauce on top, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle with about 1⁄3 cup plus 2 tablespoons mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Pecorino. Add another layer of eggplant and repeat this process until you’ve reached the final layer of eggplant. Top this layer only with ½ cup sauce, a final thin layer of mozzarella, and some Pecorino. (Reserve any remaining sauce for another use.) At this point, the eggplant parmigiana can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 day.

5. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and bronzed in places and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes (add about 10 minutes if your dish was previously assembled and chilled). Remove and let cool slightly. Slice into squares and serve warm.