This Eggplant Parmesan is the real deal. Mamma Agata hails from the Amalfi Coast and serves this dish as an appetizer. It would also be perfect for a dinner entree.
On Today’s menu, we’re going to Italy food as part of the 2014 Winter Olympics around the world series.
I’ve been so excited to tell you guys this story for quite some time but I didn’t want to tell it without showing you this dish.
For our honeymoon, Ben and I were dying to travel to Italy and France. Even though Ben had been to Europe multiple times before, I had never been and I really wanted to go. Who can blame me?
My one request regarding our trip to Italy was a cooking lesson with an Italian grandmother. How difficult could that be to find? Well, as it turns out, pretty difficult. Ben did an amazing job though and ended up scoring a day with Mamma Agata and oh my gosh, it was amazing!!!!!
Nestled in a cliff overlooking the crystal clear Amalfi Coast waters, this was not your average grandmother’s house. Mamma Agata and her daughter Chiara are quite the hosts. In fact, the whole family really joined in. It was an amazing experience. Ben and I basically had to roll ourselves out the door at the end of the day. We spent about 6 hours cooking (and eating) and we could have stayed there forever. It was heaven.
Loads of vegetable gardens, lemon trees, olive trees, and grape vines covered the property. So it came as no surprise that this family also made their own lemoncello, olive oil, and wine. It was even better than I could have hoped for- by far! It was no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime experience though I certainly hope to go back.
I don’t make this eggplant parmesan often, but when I do, it immediately transports me back to our amazing day in Amalfi where I learned to cook the true Italian way from Chiara and Mamma Agata.
You think you don’t like eggplant, as Chiara would say, “It’s not your fault,” in reference to incorrectly cooked eggplant gaining an unnecessarily bad reputation. I have to admit that I too, disliked eggplant prior to enjoying it this way and then realized that Chiara had a valid point. Now I love eggplant, when it is cooked like this, that is.
This dish takes some time to pull together, so I always embark on this recipe on a weekend day when I have plenty of time to enjoy the process. It’s a labor of love and the time spent crafting this remarkable dish will not leave you disappointed with the result.
The original recipe calls for Japanese-style eggplant (the long skinny ones), but they’re hard to find here in the dead of winter. So, I always substitute the voluptuous ones as Chiara called them.
Start by cutting off the ends of the eggplant and peeling them in alternating rows so that roughly half of the skin is left in place. Continue peeling until all of your eggplants look like zebras (no, really).
Then, using a knife, carefully cut the eggplant into 1/4″ thick long pieces.
Then, using your largest colander, layer the eggplant in the colander sprinkling each layer lightly with salt. This will draw out the bitterness of the eggplant. Allow the salted eggplant to rest for 30 minutes. Just look at the liquids that accumulated after 30 minutes.
For the sauce, I used a combination of the Mamma Agata’s two tomato sauces.
Add 3 tbsp of olive oil to a saucepan. Add the thinly sliced garlic and the basil leaves. Turn the heat to medium. Don’t let the garlic burn. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the sliced grape tomatoes and the crushed tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer for 30 minutes. Stir frequently.
Then, using paper towels, pat them completely dry using light pressure on each individual piece. Now you’re ready to fry them! Heat peanut oil to about 275 degrees in a large pot equipped with a thermometer.
Lightly flour each piece of eggplant in “00” flour and then slowly drop it into the oil. “00” flour is a super light flour that can be found at most grocery stores and all Italian specialty markets. Depending on the size of your pot, you may be able to fit a few pieces at a time. Once golden, flip and then once golden on the other side, remove the eggplant from the oil onto a paper towel lined plate. Repeat the flour and frying process until all eggplant are fried. If during this process some of your eggplant look like they need additional drying, press them into a paper towel before flouring them. Layer the paper towels for the cooked eggplant so that each piece has a chance to dry.
Once the eggplant have all been fried, allow them to cool on a paper towel lined plate.
In the meantime, slice up your cheeses as thinly as possible. You can use fresh mozzarella or pre-sliced but you don’t want the mozzarella to be too moist. So, if you plan on using fresh, allow it to dry out for a day or so by unwrapping it and placing it in a covered container in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to assemble, add a touch of the red sauce to the bottom of your casserole dish. I use a 9X9, but this recipe easily makes enough for a 9X13.
Add a double layer of eggplant. Add about 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese. Top with the mozzarella cheese, then top that with the provolone cheese torn or cut so that it fits into all of the corners. Add the fresh basil leaves and a touch of red sauce. Don’t over sauce or your casserole will be full of liquid. You may think you aren’t using enough sauce, but don’t worry–it will be perfect.
Now, onto the second layer. Eggplant (double layer), then 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, provolone cheese, and basil leaves. Add a touch of red sauce.
For the top layer, add the eggplant (double layer), and press slightly downward on the casserole. Then add 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese and a touch of tomato sauce. This is your eggplant parmesan.
Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Your dish may not be deep enough to keep the parmesan from overflowing during baking so you may want to place something underneath it to keep your oven from being a mess.
Once the 1 hour time has passed, turn off the oven and allow the eggplant parmesan to sit in the oven for another 10 minutes. Then, remove and allow it to cool for at least 30-45 minutes before serving. This will ensure that it keeps its shape.
Check out those views overlooking the Amalfi Coast!
Chiara, me, Ben, and Mamma Agata
This Eggplant Parmesan is straight from the Amalfi Coast of Italy. It requires of labor of love, but is well worth it! Enjoy as an appetizer or entree.
- 8 Japanese eggplants (or 3-4 normal eggplants)
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese (in a ball)
- 1/2 lb smoked provolone (I can never find it smoked, so I used regular provolone)
- 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup "00" flour
- basil leaves (about 20)
- 32 oz peanut oil for frying (grapeseed works as well)
- 1 cup tomato sauce (recipe follows)
- Wash and dry the eggplant.
- Remove both ends then peel them in alternating pattern so that they look like zebras.
- Slice them 1/4" thick.
- In layers, add them to the colander with a touch of salt on each layer.
- Allow them to sit and draw out moisture for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the frying oil to about 300 degrees.
- Once they've been sitting for 30 minutes, pat them dry with paper towels.
- Lightly coat each piece with flour and then fry in small batches. Once fried, allow them to drain on paper towel lined plates.
- Once all of the eggplant have been fried, now you're ready to assemble the casserole.
- Begin with a sprinkle of sauce (light), and then add a double layer of eggplant. Add parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup), mozzarella cheese, and provolone cheese. Add fresh basil leaves.
- Repeat (tomato sauce, double layer of eggplant, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and basil leaves).
- The top layer gets only the double layers of eggplant, a sprinkle of tomato sauce and parmesan.
- Once layers are complete, place the casserole in a 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Place foil or a sheet dry beneath the dish so that nothing runs over.
- Once cooked, crack the oven door and allow it to sit for another 10 minutes before removing.
- Wait 30-45 minutes before serving.
00 flour can be found at most gourmet markets, grocery stores, or if all else fails, Italian markets.
If you wanted to make this ahead of time and cook it later, just wait for all eggplant and other ingredients to come to room temperature before assembling.
- 1 lb grape tomatoes, halved
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- Slice the tomatoes in half.
- Add the garlic and basil to the olive oil in a saucepan and turn the heat to medium.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and the grape tomatoes.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.