Try your hand at a classic this weekend.
EGGPLANT PARMESAN SUMMER SUPPER
At first instinct, eggplant Parmesan is a winter meal, hearty and filling. But assuredly, if you’ve ever grown your own eggplant or bought them from the hands of the farmer who has, you will want to show them off at their peak. In-season summer eggplant almost entirely lacks the bitterness that older, off-season eggplants can have. Put them front and centre in one of the most satisfying of all meals.
When you fry eggplant on the stove top, each piece soaks up a tremendous amount of oil. Eggplant roasted in the oven while the sauce simmers is lighter and faster, and there’s less mess to clean up when guests arrive. Serve your feast outside under a tree, with a big pile of angel hair pasta, sparkling Lambrusco, and green salad—an instant portal to Italian villa life.
Like most dishes with red sauce, eggplant Parm gets better the second night, and more so on the third. If you’re lucky enough to have any leftovers, pile them on rosemary focaccia rolls for a decadent, if messy, sandwich.
- 3 balls fresh mozzarella cheese
- 2 large eggplants (about 3 lb/1.4 kg), cut into ½-in/12-mm slices (see Cook’s Note)
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed or minced
- Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
- Two 28-oz/800-g cans San Marzano or plum tomatoes in juice
- Sea salt
- 1 sprig fresh basil (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more as needed
- ¾ cup/90 g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 lb/455 g capellini or angel hair pasta
1. Thinly slice the mozzarella and lay on a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 375°/190°C/gas 5.
2. Lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil, season with salt and black pepper, and spread out on two baking sheets. Roast until soft and golden brown, about 35 minutes, flipping with tongs halfway through cooking.
To make the Marinara Sauce:
3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, passing them through clean hands on the way to the pot to crush and swish them. Add ½ tsp salt (use a light hand if your tomatoes are pre-salted), basil (if using), and bay leaf and reduce the heat to medium-low. Gently simmer until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes, crushing the tomatoes further with a wooden spoon to help them break down. Taste and add another ¼ salt and pepper if needed and stir to combine. Remove and discard the basil and bay leaf.
4. Purée the whole thing together with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the butter to soften the acidity of the tomatoes. Taste and add more butter as needed. You should have about 5 cups/1.2 L of sauce.
5. When the eggplant is finished roasting, raise the oven temperature to 400°F/200°C/gas 6.
6. Spoon about 1¼ cups/300 ml of the tomato sauce into a 9-by-13-in/23-by-33-cm baking dish and spread it to cover the bottom. Layer in about half the eggplant and sprinkle with one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, eyeballing the ingredients to create even layers—exact amounts aren’t so important. Top with half of the mozzarella slices. Spoon over a generous 1 cup/240 ml or so of sauce, followed by a second layer of eggplant, another third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle on the remaining third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 35 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and let cool about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Warm the remaining marinara sauce over low heat. Drain the pasta and toss with the marinara sauce.
8. Serve the eggplant Parmesan warm with the angel hair pasta.
How an eggplant tastes to you is entirely dependent on if you’re eating it in season, how many days it’s been off the plant, and whether or not bitter is a pleasing flavour to you. I neither peel nor salt my eggplant, particularly when it’s very fresh. But when in doubt, peel and generously salt the slices and set them aside in a colander or on paper towels to drain, about 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry before roasting.
Feast by Sarah Copeland, published by Chronicle Books
IMAGE: © Yunhee Kim