We love many foods, but this eggplant parmesan recipe, or parmigiana as we say in Italy, is easily at the top of the list. This is one of those foods that just makes us happy, it’s pure joy. It takes (most) of our favorite bits of lasagna and compiles them into vegetarian form. There’s no bolognese here, just shapely eggplants, tomato sauce, olive oil, basil, and cheese!
What Is Eggplant Parmesan?
Eggplant parmesan is a traditional southern Italian dish, the Italian name is parmigiana alle melanzane. Eggplant parmesan is made with eggplant, mozzarella (or provola), parmigiano reggiano, tomato sauce, olive oil, and basil. Depending on who you ask it may also include breadcrumbs and/or eggs. You layer all of the ingredients and then bake in the oven until golden and perfect.
The Battle for The Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
There’s a little battle over who invented the classic eggplant parmesan recipe. Some say it’s from Campania, others Calabria, and some say Sicily. We obviously say Calabria. This is because Calabria is a region where ‘heavy’ foods are quite popular. And provola, the best cheese for a classic eggplant parmesan recipe is made perfectly here.
Naples lays claim to the dish due to the fact that San Marzano are truly the best dang tomatoes in Italy. However, Sicily without a doubt grows the best eggplants. Lina’s almost exclusively uses Sicilian eggplants for this dish. What we know for sure is that eggplant parmesan is from South Italy and is delicious.
How to Make Eggplant Parmesan
The layers for traditional eggplant parmesan should be light and thin. There doesn’t need to be mountains of cheese or tomato sauce so don’t go heavy-handed. Sprinkle each ingredient between each layer moderately and make sure it’s portioned out evenly between layers. If you have some leftover sauce that’s okay. You can fill in some edges if you’d like and then save the rest for pasta sauce!
Frying The Eggplant: Breaded vs. Non Breaded
This is Lina’s, Giuseppe’s mother’s, recipe. When eggplants are in season it’s also eggplant parmesan season! Lina has tried this recipe a few different ways and she’s gone back and forth on frying the eggplant. We think in general eggplant parmesan tastes and feels lighter with plain ol’ fried eggplants. You can bread the eggplants if you truly want, but we don’t feel it adds a lot to the dish and can actually create some cakey spots.
However, this does mean that there will be absolutely no flour in this dish to sop up any excess sauce. But are we really even worried about that?
Mozzarella is an extremely watery cheese so using it in eggplant parmesan creates too much liquid. It always pools in the bottom of the pan which isn’t too fun. It’s best to use provola. If you’re in the U.S. see if your local cheesemonger can recommend a softer provolone. Provola in Calabria feels like a much harder mozzarella with a riper bite to it, and it melts extremely well.
Eggplant Parmesan tastes best when it’s tomato season because you have the opportunity to use super fresh tomatoes! Canned or jarred tomatoes also work very well. We recommend buying whole san marzano tomatoes in the can and then crushing them before cooking. They’ll then melt into a sauce. If you can only find crushed tomatoes or plain ol’ tomato sauce use that! Try to avoid tomato sauces with additives such as basil or onions. You can add your own seasoning to your liking.
When cooking the sauce don’t let it get too concentrated as you do want to make sure there’s enough sauce for each layer. When ladling the sauce onto each layer you don’t need to cover up every single spot. The cheese will also melt and fill in those pockets. The tomato sauce should be present but not overwhelm the dish.
Let It Rest!
Eggplant parmesan needs to rest after it’s come out of the oven. It’s really tempting to dive right in but listen up, this dish tastes 5x better after it’s been sitting for at least 4 hours. This gives the flavors time to meld together and for any excess liquid to evaporate or distribute proportionally. So let the eggplant parm rest for several hours. If you’re having company and want to space out cooking then make this the day before and pop it into the oven to reheat.
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If you make this parmigiana please leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! We love to hear from you and do respond to comments. And if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Facebook and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!
Eggplant Parmesan Recipe (Parmigiana)
This eggplant parmesan recipe (aka parmigiana) is a Calabrian classic! You'll need olive oil, eggplants, tomato sauce, provola, & basil.
- freshly grated black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- preferred frying oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 8 to 10 leaves basil finely chopped
- 2 medium globe eggplants approx. 8" long
- 1 28oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
- 12 oz finely sliced mozzarella or provola
- 11 tbsp finely grated parmigiano reggiano
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Cut the eggplants into 1/2" thick rounds.
Lightly salt eggplant and place into a strainer/colander. Let the eggplant drain for 40 minutes. Tip: If you place a weight on the eggplant slices they will drain faster.
Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.
Prep a plate or tray with paper towels.
Heat a large frying pan on medium heat and fill with 3/4" extra virgin olive oil or preferred frying oil. Test oil to make sure it's hot with a pinch of flour. Fry eggplant until fully cooked and golden brown. Set aside.
Smash garlic cloves with the side of a knife or chop into 2-3 large pieces (do not chop fine, it will burn).
Place a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until garlic has 'scented' olive oil and develops a warm buttery yellow color. Tip: Tilt the pan down to 'boil' the garlic and oil over direct heat.
Add the tomato sauce to the saucepan and cook for 15 minutes. Add 4-5 basil leaves and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Assembling the Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)
Add one small ladle of tomato sauce to the bottom of a medium baking tray followed by a layer of the fried eggplants. Add 2 tbsp parmigiano reggiano. Add 3 oz. provola. Add 2 leaves of basil.
Repeat layering sauce, eggplant, cheese, basil until you’ve completed four layers.
Top with 3 tbsp parmigiano reggiano and breadcrumbs.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.
For best results assemble and bake the parmigiana a day before. Reheat and serve warm.