When I found a tub of fresh organic ricotta cheese for half price at the discount grocery store, I thought of the locally-grown fresh eggplant that I’d already bought at the tailgate market and knew exactly what I’d be making. Usually we make fried eggplant parmesan since ricotta is normally so expensive, but my favorite way to have it is baked with basil, ricotta, and marinara, giving it a feel reminiscent of lasagna, but with those delicious crispy breaded eggplants spread across the top instead.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
serves six to eight
- 3 small to medium Italian eggplants
- 1 egg
- dribble of milk
- bread crumbs (preferably Italian seasoned)
- 16 ounces marinara
- 15 ounces ricotta
- enough freshly grated parmesan to cover *
- approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- grated mozzarella cheese to cover lightly
- optional: spaghetti noodles to serve it over.
* or substitute Romano for a slightly different taste
1.) First, slice the eggplant into rounds. The thickness is up to you, depending on what you want. If you slice them a half an inch thick, they will be crunchy outside and medium-done on the inside (still slightly firm). If you cut them a quarter to three-eighths of an inch thick, they will be quite squishy in the middle.
2.) Sprinkle each side of each round with salt. Next you are going to want to press the eggplant and “sweat” off the natural juices it has which taste bitter). I do this by setting a cutting board inside a cookie pan (the cookie pan is to catch the juice). Arrange the eggplant rounds into even stacks. I then get out our largest cast iron pot and set it on top, making sure it covers every stack. If you don’t have a large cast iron pot, you can fill a pot with water (for weight) and use it instead. Leave the eggplant sweating for 30 minutes .
3.) Once the eggplant has sweated for a half an hour, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
4.) Take the weight off of the eggplant rounds, and carefully rinse each piece under running water to remove all of the salt. Drain and pat dry.
5.) Spray a dry cookie sheet with a very light coating of vegetable oil. In a shallow, flat-bottomed bowl, beat the egg and a small dribble of milk until mixed. Spread the breadcrumbs in a plate. Dip each eggplant round on both sides in the egg until coated, and then the breadcrumbs on both sides until coated. Place in a single layer on the cookie sheet. (You may have to use a second sheet, especially if you cut your eggplant rounds thin). Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) on middle rack in oven until turning soft and golden brown (usually about 10-30 minutes, depending on thickness of slices). Leave the oven on after removing the eggplant, you’re going to use it again shortly.
6.) Take out a 9×13 glass, Pyrex, or insulated baking pan. Spread ricotta cheese evenly across the bottom. Spread the marinara evenly over that. Place basil leaves evenly over that. Next, spread a layer of the baked eggplant over top of that (I use a pair of tongs, since they’re still very hot). Then, grate fresh parmesan cheese (or Romano) over the first layer of eggplant, enough to cover. Place the remaining eggplant in a layer over that, and then spread a very light coat of grated mozzarella cheese over the top. Bake until the cheese starts to turn gold and it is starting to bubble in the center (usually at least a half an hour).
7.) Serve it plain, or you can serve it over spaghetti to make it more filling, to tone it down a little, and to make it go a little further. Let it sit in the pan at least five minutes before serving. Enjoy!