Heritage Recipe For Baked Eggplant
My grandparents made this dish often. They would cook though out the day, preparing large batches to store in the freezer for my mom. Those days, in the early morning hours, our house smelled of dark coffee, garlic and basil.
I revised my grandmother's original recipe, but not the cooking method, which involves copious amounts of oil for frying (don't worry, you can blot the eggplant on paper towels to absorb any excess oil). Needless to say this isn't a low-fat dish, but like most rich foods, it's very satisfying. A little goes a long way!
-1 to 1 1/2 cups high heat cooking oil (I used sunflower oil)
-2 to 4 medium eggs (you will probably only use two, but may need more)
-1 medium eggplant, skinned and cut into 1/4" slices
-2 - 3 cups Italian seasoned Panko bread crumbs
-fine grain sea salt
-15 ounce can of tomato sauce
-2 cloves of minced garlic
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
-1/3 cup good quality red wine (don't use a wine you wouldn't drink)
-1/4 cup olive oil
-8 ounces of thinly slices fresh mozzarella (you may use more, depending on preference)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the sliced eggplant on paper towels in a single layer. I place aluminum foil underneath the first layer of paper towels to protect my counter top. Salt each slice, making sure to generously season each slice. Place another layer of paper towels over the salted eggplant and weigh down the slices with pots filled with cookbooks, or whatever you have that is heavy and isn't affected by moisture. Let the eggplant sit for a half an hour but no longer than an hour and a half.
In a small sauce pan, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the minced garlic and saute for a couple of minutes, being careful not to brown. Pour in the tomato sauce and red wine. Stir while adding the basil, oregano and parsley. Bring the sauce to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about twenty minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Gently rinse the eggplant slices under water and pat dry.
Take out two dinner plates. Crack two eggs onto one of the plates and whip until well blended. Pour two cups of the Panko bread crumbs on the other.
Pour enough oil into a large, deep frying pan to coat the bottom; continue pouring until you have about 1/4" of oil. Turn the burner on to medium being careful not to over heat. Depending on your range, you may have to adjust your heat to achieve the desired results.
Dip one slice of the eggplant into the egg batter, flip over and coat the other side; let the excess batter drip off. Dip the slice into the bread crumbs and flip over to coat the other side as well. Place the slice into the heated pan and fry for about two minutes. Turn over and repeat. You want the breadcrumbs to be golden. Place slice on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. After the first slice is done you should be able to see if your heat is right. If your eggplant cooked too quickly you may want to turn your heat down and if it was taking too long to cook, turn it up slightly. Continue with the rest of your slices adding up to four at a time allowing room for space between the slices. You don't want the slices to be touching each other. Replenish the eggs and/or breadcrumbs as needed.
Grease a medium sized casserole dish and arrange prepared eggplant in a single layer. Pour sauce over the slices and top with a layer of mozzarella (as mentioned, you may use more mozzarella on the topping if you wish). Repeat. Finish by topping your final layer of eggplant with sauce and cheese. Cover your casserole with aluminum foil and bake for about 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted. Serve warm.