Lately I have been trying to make friends with egg plant. Try as I may, I have never liked it. Conversely, my husband loves it and is often disappointed when he suggests it for dinner and I poo-poo the idea. A few days ago I decided to try my hand at making faux bacon using slices of eggplant. It was a hit and I actually loved it. I will make it again.
The recipe was so simple, it’s almost ridiculous. I posted it the other day. Click here. Also did you notice flat “Groot” in the last piece? Yeah, that wasn’t planned.
Because I liked this so much, I decided to buy some more eggplant and see what else I could possibly love about it. Enter, “Tricked Out Eggplant Parmesan”. I like just about anything fried, so why not! I have to give credit to Trisha Yearwood because I saw her show on the Food Network and she made Eggplant Parmesan stacks. I thought they looked really pretty, so this was the inspiration for my dish.
This recipe starts by slicing the eggplant into rounds. I salted them on both sides and set them up on a wire rack for thirty minutes. Then they get towel dried and dredged in the traditional, seasoned flour, egg and Italian breadcrumb mixture.
I made a quick, cheater version of marinara sauce (and I do mean quick AND cheater cheater pumpkin eater!) I cut up an onion into a medium large dice and sautéed it in some olive oil and fresh garlic; then I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, Italian seasoning, one large can of Italian seasoned diced tomatoes and shhhhh!…a jar of prepared Marinara. (My favorite brand is by Chef Emeril Lagasse. I love his tomato basil sauce!) I threw in the rind of my last Parmesan wedge and also two basil stems with the leaves and all-then it simmered for about half an hour. I was shocked at how good it was. I was even more shocked that Charlie raved over it. (He is an Italian gravy snob from Chicago.)
Then comes the frying of the eggplant. I heated the oil in my cast iron skillet to 350 degrees, which is the optimal temperature for deep frying. (I never deep fry without a thermometer.) The eggplant cooks very quickly; about a minute on each side. After this, it’s just a matter of salting them while they are still hot and dabbing them with paper towels to get rid of the excess oil.
Now comes the really fun part: stacking them! First a slice of eggplant, then sauce, then grated cheese (I used a combination of Mozzarella, Fontina and fresh Parmesan), then a big fat basil leaf! Repeat twice but leave off the basil leaf from the top or it will burn. Then bake these beautiful creatures!
I made a side dish of fettuccine, but it was too much. One of these stacks is a meal in itself, so next time we’ll just have a nice salad and call it a day.
Well, did I like it or not? Resoundingly I say, “Yes! Yes! Yes! This recipe is a keeper and I really loved my cheater sauce. It was yummy and so easy.
It looks like a lot of work but truly, it’s all easy stuff. Give it a try!
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning.
1 small Parmesan rind
1 15-ounce can Italian-style diced tomatoes
1 jar prepared marinara (your favorite)
1 bunch fresh basil
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
4 large eggs
4 cups Italian breadcrumbs
One 1-pound eggplant, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds (about 24 slices)
1 cup shredded Fontina cheese. 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese.
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
To make a “cheater cheater pumpkin eater” marinara sauce, place a sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened , about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the diced tomatoes, including their juice, to the pot. Stir to combine. Add 1 whole stem of fresh basil leaves, plus the Italian Seasonings. Throw in the Parmesan rind. (If you don’t have one, you can sprinkle in some grated Parmesan cheese.) Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow the sauce to cook and reduce while you work on everything else.
Pour the vegetable oil into a Dutch oven and attach a deep-frying thermometer. Heat the oil over medium heat to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and top with a cooling rack.
Assemble a three dish dredging station: To the first dish, add the flour, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and stir to combine. In the second dish, beat the eggs. To the third dish, add the breadcrumbs (I add extra seasoning here. You can even add some grated Parmesan here and it would be delicious.)
Dredge both sides of the eggplant slices in the seasoned flour. Then, dip the eggplant slices into the egg. Then, coat the eggplant in the breadcrumbs evenly on both sides.
Working in batches, carefully place the breaded eggplant into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and crispy, about 40-50 seconds per side. Transfer to the cooling rack on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each slice generously with salt. Continue until all the eggplant has been fried.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the basil stem from the marinara sauce.
Remove the paper towels from the baking sheet. Build towers on the cooling rack: Top a slice of eggplant with 1 tablespoon of marinara sauce, 1 tablespoon mozzarella, 1 tablespoon Parmesan and 1 basil leaf. Place a second piece of eggplant on top and repeat this process. Top the tower with a third piece of eggplant and repeat only with sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan (no basil). Repeat this process to create 8 towers on the cooling rack.
Bake until the cheese is melted and slightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Transfer the towers to a serving platter. Garnish each eggplant tower with a fresh basil leaf and serve immediately.
I made four of these towers. We ate two of them and refrigerated the others for the next day’s lunch. They were just as delicious re-heated.