I must confess, I am a committed carnivore. So are my wife and kids. At the center of most meals we prepare are tasty meat dishes providing flavorful, satisfying proteins.
However, increasingly in our catering business, people are asking for a vegetarian alternative. And periodically, we host guests in our home that are vegetarians. Whether relatives visiting, girlfriends my sons bring home or clients in our business, their dietary desires present the dilemma: what is a delicious, satisfying main course alternative to meat?
Throughout the years, my go-to vegetarian main course has become eggplant parmesan. As a carnivore, I find this dish to be just as satisfying using eggplant as when I make it with chicken or veal. The eggplant has a great “meaty” texture that fulfills the requirements of a main course for both the herbivore and meat-eater. This dish is particularly well suited to the summertime, as so much wonderful eggplant is grown locally.
I prefer the globe eggplant to the smaller Japanese variety simply because it is bigger and easier to work with. Some recipes call for salting the eggplant for 30 minutes prior to cooking to remove moisture and bitterness. I have not found this to be necessary — maybe our local eggplant is sufficiently sweet to allow us to forgo this time consuming and messy step.
Many eggplant parmesan recipes call for it to be fried, but I have found baking it in the oven to be easier and healthier, not using all that oil. The flavor is just as awesome when baked.
Serves 6 to 8
2 medium globe eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably Panko
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup unbleached flour
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic gloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 fresh basil leaves, coarsely torn, for garnish
For the eggplant: Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Put the flour in a pie plate. Season with Italian seasoning. Crack and whisk the eggs in a second pie plate. Mix the bread crumbs and parmesan in a third pie plate. Coat the eggplant slices in the flour, then dip in the egg wash, letting any excess run off, and, finally, in the bread crumb mixture. Set the coated slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Coat two baking sheets with 3 tablespoons oil each. Put the coated eggplant slices on the oiled baking sheets. Put in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping the slices over and rotating the sheets after 15 minutes. Remove from oven, leaving the oven on.
For the tomato sauce: While the eggplant bakes, pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until almost smooth. In a heavy sauce pan, saute the garlic and pepper flakes in the olive oil until fragrant, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes to the pan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until somewhat thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes. Add the basil and salt and pepper to taste.
Assemblage: Spread a cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Layer the eggplant slices, then tomato sauce, then mozzarella. Repeat, leaving more of the top layer of eggplant exposed so it crisps when baking. Top with the grated parmesan. Bake for about 15 minutes until bubbly. Let the dish cool and firm up for 10 to 15 minutes. Scatter the basil garnish over the top. Slice and enjoy.
Carnivore alert: This recipe can be used with thinly sliced and pounded boneless, skinless chicken breasts or veal scaloppini substituting for the eggplant
Doug Seed was raised in Bloomfield, Mich. and has lived in Morada since 1984. He is a non-denominational clergyman, specializing in research and teaching of the Bible and is also co-owner of A Moveable Feast, a Lodi-based food truck. He is married to Carole and they have four sons. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing bridge and golfing.