Mario Batali Gives Us the Genius Weeknight Eggplant Parm We All Need

September 20, 2017

World, we finally have an Eggplant Parmesan that will fit neatly into your after-work life. In fact, there are three secrets to it that Mario Batali has been sitting on for years.

I realize it looks nothing like your nonna’s (tell us about hers in the comments, too!), but it's probably lighter-weight, a lot quicker to make, and you might even like it better. We won't tell her if you won't.

The various things that most eggplant parmesan recipes require you to do—the salting, pressing, breading, frying, then parm-ing—you don’t have to do here. And yet the eggplant is still concentrated and meltingly-soft—not tough or bitter or any of our other Worst Eggplant Fears; the tomato and cheese and breadcrumbs all do exactly what we're hoping they will.

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Here's how: Batali has published at least three recipes of this ilk over the years, since his Molto Mario days. He’s gone off-script by grilling it, or larding the eggplant with thin slices of garlic, but there are three things that all his versions have in common. In my quest for The Ultimate Mario Batali Eggplant Parm Experience, I worked in my favorite elements of all of them—but these are the most important genius techniques, distilled:

1. The eggplant is roasted, not fried.

This gives you major weeknight points, but it also keeps the eggplant pure in flavor, not bogged down with oil and breading. The slices simply need to roast through for 30 minutes with a brush of olive oil and shakes of salt and pepper till they’re soft.

Other recipes would insist that you salt and drain the eggplant first to theoretically, debatably reduce bitterness, and prevent extra moisture from flooding the casserole. But this is rendered unnecessary if you remove the casserole entirely, which brings us to...

The 1990s are not to blame here.

2. Instead of a gooey mass packed in a casserole, it’s stacked into neat towers.

When I first saw these stacks, I assumed they might have been the results of the 1990s tall food trend, with no other justification. But, in fact, stacking allows you to approach the proportions more loosely: You don’t need to worry about perfect ratios to prevent a soggy casserole or a dry one, because—once again—there is no casserole.

The whole thing is good because each layer is good, and luscious eggplant and bright marinara and gooey cheese-pulls of mozzarella inherently complement each other: In Batali’s version—unlike, perhaps, nonna’s—they don’t need to fuse completely. (He did downsize the 3-slice stacks from Molto Mario to 2-slice ones on The Chew, which was a good move, for structural reasons.)

3. The breadcrumbs aren’t hidden in breaded layers in the middle, but left crunchy on top.

Even if you don’t miss breading and frying the eggplant, you will probably miss its golden-toasty flavor. You can hold onto it (and add pops of crunchier texture, too), if you simply toast the breadcrumbs and sprinkle them on top. In Mario’s latest version as seen on The Chew, he gets fancy with thyme and chile flakes in the breadcrumbs and you can too, but I’m generally pretty happy with straight olive oil and salt.

Depending on your commitment level tonight, you can make Mario's tomato sauce in the recipe, or Marcella's, or your own, or buy a jar, for Pete's sake—you're already making Eggplant Parm. Nonna would be proud anyway.

Photos by Emily Dryden

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Food52er TheBostonian for this one.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • rob
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    Jaye Bee
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    Bobbie Gay
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  • Allison Koch
    Allison Koch
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


rob December 2, 2017
Call it something else because this is not eggplant parmagiana.
Jaye B. September 29, 2017
I love eggplant and make it often. Can anyone tell me if there's a way to tell if the skin will be tough in advance of cooking? I never peel Japanese eggplant because it's always tender, but I always peel the large because several times the skin was tough even after lengthy cooking.
Bobbie G. September 20, 2017
I salt, press, and drain the eggplant, fry it with breading, and then put it on a rack in a very low oven. When it's time to eat, I put slices of mozzarella on each slice of eggplant, run it under the broiler until it's melting and browning, and then serve it with a dipping sauce of marinara. The best part is, I have left the eggplant in the low oven for up to 3 hours, and the eggplant just gets better and better, oozily softening safely within its bread-crumb crust.
bsque September 20, 2017
I buy eggplant, slice and roast on parchment (brushed with olive or avocado oil) or grill it; I then use it as the base of a pretty lame but frankly pretty delicious and ridiculously easy lunch. Using plastic, microwaveable container in a size right for you, put a layer of eggplant (2 to 6 half inch, roasted slices), spoonsful of marinara, a layer of cottage cheese and mozzarella, and then granulated garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, and fresh parmesan cheese, all packed cold. At work, microwave until it's fragrant and hot all the way through, and co-workers will start asking who has the best lunch today...of course ricotta would be better, but cottage cheese is something I always have; of course homemade marinara would be better, but jarred is what I always have, and you only need a couple tablespoons...
Allison K. September 20, 2017