Winter comes on fast here in Syracuse. It seems like one week you’re sweating in 90 degrees weather at the fair and the next week you’re rummaging through the house trying to figure out where you stashed your scarf when winter finally ended in June. It’s a long, cold, snowy winter ’round here, predominated by gloomy, gray skies and frostbitten noses.
But, there’s a short period of time between the summer and winter, where the sun is still shining, but the air carries just a touch of chill; sweater weather. The leaves turn a beautiful rainbow of rusty reds, burnt oranges, and golden yellows. Apples are ripe for picking. It’s perfectly autumn.
And though I don’t particularly care for the long periods of Syracuse winter gloom, I feel a buzz of excitement on the day I wake up to that perfectly autumn weather. To me, the first cool day in September is shouting one thing, loud and clear… Welcome to Comfort Food Season!
Comfort food season. It’s the time for spending a little longer in the kitchen. Time for heating up the oven and letting the warm aromas permeate the house. Time for hot, cheesy dishes, casseroles, and slow-cooked meats with roasted potatoes. Time for forgiving stretchy pants and bulky sweaters. Comfort food season makes this Gourmand Mom a very happy girl.
So, in honor of comfort food season, I’m making one of my childhood comfort food favorites. You see, I’m Irish, Scottish, and Armenian by heritage, but a good part of my family is Italian. I was raised on Italian food. There may not be a drop of Italian blood in me, but there’s the heart of an Italian cook hiding in there. And, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than Eggplant Parmigiana. Breaded and fried eggplant, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked until perfectly hot and delicious.
My recipe is based on the recipe I was raised with. The secret comes from the combination of three different cheeses between each layer of eggplant; parmigiano-reggiano, mozzarella, and ricotta. The ricotta’s the real key, if you ask me. You can use any kind of tomato sauce in the dish. Homemade marinara or a high-quality store-bought sauce would be fine. I’m using a jar of Bertolli’s spicy Arrabbiata Sauce, which I received in the welcome gift bag over the weekend.
My process for making eggplant parmigiana begins with salting the eggplants. If you’re using freshly picked or baby eggplants, you can probably skip this step. For larger eggplants, which have been off the plant for a few days, salting serves a dual purpose. The salt draws out the bitter liquids which can accumulate in older eggplants, leaving you with a better flavor. Also, as a result of removing some of the liquid, you’ll have a firmer eggplant which will absorb less oil during the frying process.
The entire process of composing the eggplant parmigiana is a little time-consuming, but not complicated. The great part is that is can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen until you’re ready to eat. If baking from refrigerated or frozen, be sure to add some additional cooking time to ensure that the dish gets thoroughly heated through.
- 2 medium/large Eggplants, sliced into approximately 1/3″ slices
- 1 cup Flour
- 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups Bread Crumbs
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- 2 cups Tomato Sauce
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Ricotta Cheese
* All measurements are approximate. Adjust according to the size of your eggplants and your preferences.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the slices with salt. Allow the salted eggplant to rest for 15-20 minutes. You will begin to see droplets of liquid forming on the eggplant. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.
Then, set up a dish of flour, bowl of the beaten eggs, and a dish of bread crumbs. Press both sides of each slice into the flour, dip in the beaten eggs, then press into the bread crumbs to thoroughly coat. Repeat this process with all eggplant slices.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Places slices of eggplant in a single layer in the pan. Cook for about two minutes, then flip and cook on the other side for two minutes. Both sides should be a golden brown. Place the slices on layers of paper towels to drain. Continue this process, adding more oil as necessary, until all of the eggplant has been cooked. If the bread crumbs remaining in the pan between batches begin to burn, wipe out the pan and replace with fresh oil before beginning the next batch.
Pour a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. To compose the eggplant parmigiana, spread a spoonful of ricotta onto a slice of eggplant. Place the slice on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano and mozzarella. Then drizzle a small spoonful of tomato sauce on top. Repeat with additional eggplant, cheese, and sauce to create layered towers of eggplant, cheese, and sauce, each without about four eggplant slices. After placing the final slice of eggplant on the tower, top with sauce, then parmigiano-reggiano and a generous amount of mozzarella.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes. For a firmer cheese crust, leave the baking dish uncovered. For a meltier, gooey cheese topping, cover the baking dish with foil for the first 25 minutes or so.
Serve over spaghetti with extra sauce and cheese.