The other night we made Eggplant Parmesan, so delicious that we thought about the leftovers when we were away from them. We couldn’t wait to get back to them. Another great thing about Eggplant Parmesan is that it reminds me of Lucille Bluth screeching “Geeeene!” every time she runs into her dork of a private investigator named Gene Parmesan.
The first thing to do when you’re making Eggplant Parmesan is to make homemade tomato sauce and let it simmer and reduce to all kinds of goodness as you’re preparing the eggplant. Seriously, if you’re going to take the time to bread and fry the eggplant, do not ruin everything by dumping on a store-bought bottle of sauce. I will know about it, and it will hurt me.
Directions for homemade tomato sauce in the style of my Grandma Pia are at the end of the post. So let’s say you’ve made it, and it’s bubbling away on the stove. Now, cut about two medium-size or three small eggplant into 1/4-inch rounds. Put them on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt:
Let them rest like this for about 30 minutes. The salt draws liquid out of the eggplant. After 30 minutes, pat them dry. Use the down time to set up your breading station: You’ll dip each slice in a bowl with egg wash first, then on a plate with breading. In a bowl, whisk together 1 egg, a splash of water and pepper. For the breading, mix together plain bread crumbs and cornmeal, which will give the rounds a little extra crunch.
Heat a good amount of vegetable oil in a pan — you don’t want the slices to be submerged in the oil, but a thin layer won’t work, either.
Dip each eggplant slice in the egg wash, then coat both sides with breading. Working in batches, gently place the slices in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd.
Let the slices brown on one side, then flip. They’ll look like this:
Put them on paper towels as they come out of the pan. Now you’re ready to assemble. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with tomato sauce, then add a layer of eggplant and a layer of Parmesan/mozzarella cheese. Repeat the sauce-eggplant-cheese layers until you run out of eggplant. Grandma Pia says four layers of eggplant is really as many as you want.
Pop the dish in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes — not long — remember, everything is already warm, you just want it all to come together and the cheese to melt.
When you serve it, top it off with a little extra sauce.
To make sauce: Heat a sauce pot, and when it’s hot, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add two or three cloves of garlic, minced, and half an onion, chopped. It’s going to smell really awesome in your house right about now. Let the garlic and onion get soft, but you don’t really want it to brown. Then, add two large cans of whole peeled tomatoes. They hold their flavor better than diced canned tomatoes. Whatever brand you go with, look for the San Marzano variety, which are really tasty.
Using a tomato masher or a fork, break down the whole tomatoes until you get a consistency that you like. Add salt, pepper, a teaspoon-ish of sugar (yes!), and a nice big sprig of basil — stir well and let the sauce come to a boil for a minute or two. Then, simmer on low for as long as you can. The longer the better. Pull the basil out before serving.