Continuing an Italian tradition, my baked eggplant Parmesan uses farm fresh ingredients that are baked, not fried. My homemade marinara sauce makes this fall meal a truly memorable dish.
Autumn quietly arrived in New England with crisp mornings that turn into warm sunny afternoons. The glorious fall sun now sets a few minutes earlier each day, and our Farmer’s Markets are stocked with the last of nature’s bounty before the first frost ends the harvest. Beautiful plump eggplants beckon to me as I fill my market basket with copious quantities, perfect for making my Baked Eggplant Parmesan.
Coming from a long line of Italian cooks, I’ve eaten and made this southern Italian dish my entire life. Like my mother, I don’t fry my eggplant. Instead I make Baked Eggplant Parmesan, forgoing the extra fat from frying. I’ve updated the original recipe to use Panko bread crumbs for a lighter breading. Personally, I love to taste the eggplant and not the breading.
I also use San Marzano tomatoes exclusively in my marinara sauce. This makes my sauce sweeter, with less acidity. The San Marzano variety of plum tomatoes grow in the rich volcanic soil of the Sarno River valley, near Mount Vesuvius, resulting in a sweet flesh with low acidity. They have a thick skin which makes them easy to peel. Plus, they are meatier than Romas and other plum tomatoes, with fewer seeds. All of this makes for a better marinara sauce.
Like French Champagne, San Marzano tomatoes are grown under strict rules designed to protect and promote regional agricultural products. In Italy the DOP, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta, rules ensure that only growers within a defined area, adhering to specific farming and canning methods, can sell tomatoes labeled San Marzano. I assure you that the extra cost is worthwhile, as they make for the most delectable sauce for all of your dishes that require canned tomatoes.
Great recipes start with great equipment, and I highly recommend this KitchenAid Professional Stand Mixer. It comes in so many great colors!
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 head of garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes *
- ¼ cup torn basil leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Kosher salt
* I used Cento San Marzano tomatoes
- 4 lbs Italian eggplant (about 4 medium), peeled, sliced lengthwise ½–¾ inch thick
- Kosher salt
- 3 cups Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 large eggs, beaten to blend
- 1½ cups finely grated Parmesan, divided
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup finely chopped basil and parsley, plus basil leaves for serving
- 6 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, grated (about 1⅓ cups)
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Heat oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot over medium heat. Cook garlic, stirring often, until golden, about 4 minutes.
- Add onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Next, add tomato paste, stirring until combined.
- Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes, breaking up with your hands, and their juices.
- Next, add basil and oregano and stir to combine.
- Swirl 1½ cups water into one tomato can, then the other, to rinse, and add to pot. Season with salt.
- Simmer for 2–2½ hours, stirring occasionally.
- Let sauce cool slightly. Pass through the large holes of a food mill, or process in a food processor until mostly smooth. Taste and season with salt.
Do Ahead: Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Eggplant Preparation and Assembly:
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
- Lightly season eggplant slices all over with salt. Place in a single layer on top of several layers of paper towels, inside a rimmed baking sheet. Top with another layer of paper towels and more slices; repeat as needed. Top with a final layer of paper towels. Let eggplant sit until it has released excess liquid, about 45–60 minutes. This step gives the eggplant a creamy texture when baked.
- Meanwhile, pulse Panko, oregano, pepper, and ¾ cup Parmesan in a food processor until very finely ground. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
- Place flour in another shallow bowl, and eggs in a third shallow bowl. Working one at a time, dredge eggplant slices in flour, then dip in egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat in breadcrumbs, packing all around, then shaking off excess.
- Place eggplant on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Toss chopped herbs, low-moisture mozzarella, and remaining ¾ cup Parmesan in a medium bowl.
- Spread 1 cup sauce over the bottom of a 13×9″ baking pan and top with a layer of eggplant slices.
- Drizzle 1 cup sauce over top and sprinkle with one-third of cheese mixture.
- Add another layer of eggplant, followed by 1 cup sauce and half of remaining cheese mixture. Repeat layers with remaining slices, sauce, and cheese mixture.
- Cover with foil and bake 45–60 minutes, until sauce starts to bubble.
- Remove from oven and arrange fresh mozzarella over eggplant.
- Increase oven temperature to 425° Fahrenheit and bake, uncovered, until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, 15–20 minutes longer.
- Let rest 30 minutes. Top with basil leaves just before slicing.
Do Ahead: Baked Eggplant Parmesan can be made two days ahead. Let cool and cover with foil, then chill. Reheat in a 350° Fahrenheit oven, uncovering halfway through, until bubbling gently at edges.
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