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5-Ingredient Eggplant Parm Skips the Fuss, Keeps the Cheese

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A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we're making eggplant parm weeknight-friendly.

Usually, eggplant parm goes something like this:

Make tomato sauce. Maybe garlic and onion. Or anchovies and red pepper flakes. Or tomato paste and red wine. Or all of the above. Slice a couple eggplants into rounds. Season them lavishly with salt and let drain—like, for a while. Set up a dredging station: flour on one plate, eggs and milk on another, cheesy breadcrumbs on another. Bread the eggplant slices. Pan-fry in oil, in batches, until golden-brown. Layer the fried eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan in a casserole dish. Bake until bubbly. Cool. And slice.

Perfect weeknight recipe, right?

Photo by Julia Gartland

The thing is, it should be. After all, it’s eggplant season—and tomato sauce, cheese, and breadcrumbs make everything better. So how do we streamline this? Lose the fuss and keep all of the reward? Just follow these steps:

Cut the eggplant Ottolenghi-style.

I used to make this Ottolenghi recipe all the time—eggplant with chermoula, bulgur, and yogurt. Basically, you halve the eggplant lengthwise, from stem to bottom, then score the flesh into a diamond pattern, sort of like a duck breast. This encourages browning and creates lots of nooks and crannies for sauce.

Skip the frying.

Who needs another dirty dish? Not me. Not you. The eggplant’s new (and improved!) shape is perfect for roasting. Put the halves, cut side facing up, on a sheet tray, and stick in a 400° F oven. Let them do their thing until golden and tender. This means sooo much less oil. And fewer ingredients. And it’s totally hands-off.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Supersize the breadcrumbs.

Since we’re not frying the eggplant rounds, we’re also not breading the eggplant rounds. But we still want bread! Let’s take a cue from arguably the most famous mac and cheese around—Martha Stewart’s. She tops the casserole with cubed, buttered bread pieces. I like to tear mine, but the size and spirit are the same. Toss these on the sheet pan with the eggplant to crisp up.

Simplify the tomato sauce.

I’ll never say no to a puttanesca. But not all tomato sauces need so much going on. When you’re showing off a gorgeous eggplant—and, ahem, covering it in cheese—give those ingredients a chance to shine. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is little more than tomatoes, butter, and salt. This one is tomatoes, olive oil, and salt. Cook it into oblivion, so it’s thick and jammy.

Layer like an open-faced sandwich.

While most eggplant parms include many layers, this one takes after my favorite kind of sandwich: open-faced. Pull the eggplant from the oven, smother with tomato sauce, cheese, breadcrumbs, and, why not, a little more cheese. Pop back in the oven until melty. Serve each person their own saucy, gooey eggplant half with a fork, sharp knife, and stack of napkins.

Unfussy Eggplant Parm

Unfussy Eggplant Parm

Emma Laperruque Emma Laperruque
Serves 2
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 medium globe eggplant
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarella
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
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What's your favorite way to make eggplant parm? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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Tags: Big Little Recipes