Let’s begin with the basic fact that this is a cheese. Some of us remember the emerald-green can it came in located on a self in the aisle with dried pasta and jarred pasta sauces. We have come along way from those, 50’s-60’s days, however I think you can still find it in the aisle with the “Italian” products, both domestic and imported. But now your search for the real “thing” is as close as your favorite grocery store, Italian deli, and even the internet, all imported from Italy. In fact you can purchase either Reggiano or Grana Padana, both are good, if you purchase a quality product. However, “Parmesan” can be a recipe style using chicken, veal, fish, and vegetables such as eggplant. As I have mentioned my mother-in-law was the master in the kitchen and her eggplant parm never fail to please! She often used left over meatballs and gravy from Sunday Supper. The eggplant would be peeled, sliced, salted, placed in a colander weighted down with a plate to drain out the water. It was thought that the water was bitter, I am on the fence since I don’t do that anymore. Then she would take and smash the soft juicy meatballs in with the tomato gravy, adding maybe a bit of water or a small can of tomato sauce depending on the amount that was left to stretch the gravy. After the eggplant was drained of water she would pat it dry, dip them in a bowl containing flour, another bowl containing beaten eggs and then fry in a skillet until golden brown. Now you ask, “Where is the breadcrumb?” No bread crumb for this Parm! Using the tomato gravy meatball mixture she would layer the eggplant in a baking dish, topping it with sauce and sprinkling it with cheese, but not “Parm” mozzarella if she had it, but generally Pecorino Romano. She would bake it in an oven preheated to 350 for about 60 minutes; at this point she would remove it from the oven top it with a beaten egg and finish baking for about 30 minutes. It was removed from the oven to cool and set. We ate it warm and my tummy grumbles as I think of it now!
So your thinking, What is the point?” I have come up with a healthier version that is gluten-free and can be dairy free also. To start with I make a mushroom Bolognese and I roast the eggplant in a hot oven. I have tried frying the eggplant naked but it absorbed way too much oil and the parmesan was greasy. So here goes!
8 ounce of mushrooms chopped but not too big
1 small onion diced
2 cloves of garlic diced
1 stalk of celery diced
1 carrot diced
1 small or half of a pepper (optional)
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 24 ounce jar of your favorite Marinara sauce (Cento), or a 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes ( I prefer San Marzano usually Cento) Mash with your hand to break up the tomatoes. If you are not using a jar sauce season the sauce with 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning and or oregano, your preference
2-3 tablespoons Italian EVOO
1/4 cup good red wine
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a saute pan, add the onion, celery, carrot and pepper (if using) cover with a pinch of salt, cook about 3-4 minutes on medium heat. add mushrooms but do not salt, you want them to brown, cook about 5 -7 more minutes, add garlic and the pinch of crushed red pepper, cook 1 more minute, deglaze pan with wine scraping brown bits from the bottom of the pan and cook about 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Next add tomato sauce or tomatoes and cook for about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add accordingly. While the sauce is cooking you can prep the eggplant.
Preheat oven to 425
Line your baking sheets ( 2-3 depending on the amount of eggplant ) with aluminum foil and grease them with EVOO
Peel eggplant and slice about a 1/2 inch thick ( if they are too thin they won’t come off the foil easily )
I use one large skinny eggplant ( the skinnier ones are the males, No Jokes! They contain fewer seeds.) The seeds are bitter.
Place the slices on the baking sheet, lightly salt and drizzle with EVOO. Bake for 15 minutes then turn eggplant and bake about 10-15 more minutes.
To assemble coat the bottom of a baking pan ( 8×8 square or a 9×11 rectangle) with sauce and then top with eggplant. Now spread sauce on the layer of eggplant and add the cheese of you choice if you are using cheese. Another layer of eggplant. sauce etc and you should finish with a layer of sauce on the top. Sprinkle cheese on the top if you are using cheese.
Bake in a preheated 350 oven for and hour and 30 minutes. Let it cool slightly and enjoy!
A new version of an old favorite!