One of my favorite vegetarian recipes is Eggplant Parmesan. My mom made it all the time when I was a kid, but I didn’t develop a taste for it until this year. Vegetarian Perk #1: Trying new vegetables. A friend who worked at a farmer’s market gave me an eggplant they couldn’t sell, and I just started experimenting with the vegetable and some sauce.
Cast of Characters: Eggplant, Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese
You can use jarred sauce or make your own. I always make my own because my mom is Italian and I think if I used jarred my nonna’s ghost would come take a wooden spoon to my knuckles. You could also slice your mozzarella from a big piece, or shred it yourself, but I used pre-shredded. So much easier. (Spoiler alert: if you try to shred your own, be very careful; I’ve cut myself one too many times shredding it).
First of all, wash your hands. Just as a general rule, wash your hands before you cook anything. Preheat your oven to 350. You need to preheat it and let it preheat all the way, that way the whole oven is the same temperature when your eggplant goes in; that way it will cook evenly.
Next: skin your eggplant. Technically I suppose it’s called peeling, but everybody knows I’m a little weird. So, skin your eggplant. Get frustrated with the peeler and resort to a knife. Realize how much flesh that’s removing. Go back to the peeler. Maybe knick your finger and shout some curses at the eggplant. Clean it off, finish skinning it. Slice it up into fairly thick slices.
Spray your pan. You may need two pans, since eggplants are often fairly large. I like big veg and I cannot lie, you other nommers can deny. Arrange your eggplant slices so that you fit them all in your pan(s). Pour some delicious marinara sauce over the slices, covering them liberally. They’ll soak up some of the sauce.
Sprinkle cheese all over the eggplant. Go crazy. Cheese it alllllllllll up. Lots of cheese. Be a rat about that cheese. You want to cover most of the eggplant completely with cheese so that when it melts it covers the eggplant slices.
Once you’ve got your eggplant covered in sauce and cheese, and your oven preheated all the way, pop it in the oven. I always turn on the oven light so I can check on it at random. I usually don’t have exact times, but I just cooked this today and it was in the oven for 20 minutes and came out pretty good. If you want the cheese crunchier, put it on longer. If you want it gooier, put it on shorter. Also, ovens vary, so I recommend checking it around 10 minutes and then 15, etc.
Once it’s out let it cool for a little while so that the cheese stays put, and so that you don’t burn your tongue. Then, nom at will.
Pair it with pasta (I like tricolor rotini personally), toasted Italian bread (especially if you put garlic on it), a salad (no buttermilk based dressings though), pasta with vegetables, or any other side dish you like.
P.P.S. You can also chop the eggplant into small pieces, mix it with sauce, pour the mixture into muffin cups, top with cheese, and have individual ones! Alternately, do this with zucchini slices, since they’re much narrower than eggplant.