Gayle McLeod | April 1st, 2017
This is simple, vegetarian comfort food. Crispy, breaded slices of eggplant, smothered with a rich tomato sauce and cheese, then baked to perfection. What's not to love?
Eggplant isn't one of those vegetables I gravitate to, but I spotted a particularly perfect one while grocery shopping and decided it was time. I knew my best chance for success would be to fry it until crispy, then bury it in cheese... as you do.
Now, I should mention that I believe part of the success of this dish was the crust achieved by using my Lodge cast iron skillet. It resulted in THE most perfect crust I have ever seen on something breaded and shallow-fried. If you don't have one, I would advise using your heaviest skillet and taking care to thoroughly brown the eggplant on both sides. The crunch of the breaded crust, combined with the soft, yet meaty texture of the eggplant is where it's at. Trust me.
So, what if you're not an eggplant fan? I get that. You can absolutely make this with chicken, and I'll share those details below.
Makes 4-6 servings.
1½ lb eggplant, cut into ½" rounds
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp Italian seasoning (I love Simply Organics All-Purpose Seasoning)
1 container of Fresh Tomato & Basil Sauce, puréed
½ cup grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil that is safe for high heat
1 cup (5 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup (2 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat your oven to 450ºF. Prepare a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Season both sides of the eggplant pieces well with salt & pepper. Set up the breading station using shallow bowls with each of the following: flour | eggs | bread crumbs. Add the Italian seasoning to the breadcrumbs and mix well.
Coat the eggplant in flour, knocking off the excess, then dip into the egg, allowing as much as possible to drip off. Finally coat the eggplant in the breadcrumbs, gently patting so the coating sticks.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet. When the oil starts to shimmer add the eggplant and brown carefully on both sides. You may have to work in batches. Once each piece is browned, transfer to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil.
Once all the pieces are cooked, arrange a single layer in a large oven safe dish or rimmed baking sheet. If your skillet is large enough to hold all of the slices, use that and save yourself some washing up.
Evenly distribute the sauce, then both kinds of cheese over the eggplant and bake for 15 minutes, throwing the broiler on for the last few ticks, until the cheese is bubbly and just browned.
If you've made it this far and still want to use chicken, this is how it's done. Butterfly four boneless, skinless chicken breasts lengthwise, or pound them to about to about ½" thick. Follow the same instructions as above using 1 egg, 1½ cup bread crumbs and 1½ tbsp of Italian seasoning. Once browned, top with sauce and cheese (you may use less of both, depending on the surface area of the chicken to be covered). Bake and broil as per above. Serve with pasta or over a bed of baby greens. Enjoy!