Light Eggplant Parmesan solves some real problems.
Here are the Eggplant Parmesan irritants egging me on for a round of problem-solving.
1. Frying, Breading? Should I bread and fry the eggplant before topping it with tomato sauce and cheese? Sometimes I just don’t want to. It’s mess. The flour burns, the eggplant is oily. This time we cheaters are frying it naked in a deeper vat (about 2 inches in my old chicken fryer) of hot oil. Yes, this makes the eggplant less greasy because the hot oil envelopes and seals the eggplant sponge. Our other method is to boil it for a much lighter take on the classic dish.
2. Salt it? I tend to salt big round eggplant slices to remove the moisture and I want them to stay intact, not to get the bitterness out. That seems to be an old wives’ tale. Sprinkle the slices/pieces with kosher salt and let them drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. Rinse them off and squeeze pat them dry. I don’t salt when I cut up the eggplant in small pieces, especially the long thin varieties.
3. Sauce? Not too much. Make it simple so that you get a nice bite of eggplant that you can recognize with a bit of tomato and salty, savory cheese. How many times have you had eggplant parm that has invisible eggplant in it?
4. Cheese? Get a chunk of Parmesan Reggiano or substitute another good Italian hard cheese, Romano, Pecorino, Asiago, whatever you like will all work fine. The cheese just needs good strong flavor. Bake it on the casserole near the end of cooking and pass some around the table. No need for too much or too many cheeses confusing the dish.
Why do we always think we have to have big slices in eggplant parm? After salting this batch, we thought better and chopped it up.
Using plenty of oil keeps the eggplant from being too greasy. Can’t face the oil? Boil the eggplant in water. It just won’t taste quite as rich, but it works well.
And there’s always the grill and the broiler.
You can tell which one is fried? Still the boiled eggplant–on the right–tasted pretty great, too.
Deconstructed Light Eggplant Parmesan
Go easy on the proportions. You’ll just have to wing it.
Fried, grilled or boiled eggplant chunks (two medium for a 9 x 13 baking dish)
Tomato sauce (like my tomato sauce ), probably 2 or 3 cups.
Grated Parmesan cheese, about a 1/2 cup, and some to pass at the table.
Place the eggplant in a gratin or casserole. Lightly spoon on the tomato sauce so that it’s not drenched, but will make a nice bite. Cook in a 400 F oven for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with some cheese. Return to the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes. You can fry the eggplant ahead and hold it in the casserole. Add the tomato sauce just before baking. Makes about 8.