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

June 18, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow 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.

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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.

More Unfussy Eggplant Recipes

1. Coconut Milk–Braised Eggplant With Shiitakes & Scallions

While meaty braises can take hours (and hours), this vegan one comes together in 30 minutes. It starts with graffiti eggplants, which are small and quick-cooking, and ends with a coconut milk broth spiced with cumin and turmeric. Serve with fluffy rice or warm flatbread or anything else to soak up all that sauce.

2. Grilled Eggplant Agrodolce With Mint & Fresno Pepper

While this recipe was imagined as a side dish, I'd just as soon eat it for dinner—bulked up with beans or crumbled feta or both. The secret is in the agrodolce dressing, made with olive oil, vinegar, and a big spoonful of sugar. You're going to want to pour it on every grilled vegetable this summer.

3. Spicy Eggplant Pasta

This tomatoey, garlicky, eggplant-y pasta is as wonderful for a weeknight dinner as it is for hosting friends on the weekend. As you probably guessed from the title, it is spicy, thanks to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. If that sounds intimidating, feel free to scale back on either to taste.

4. Warm Eggplant & Mint Salad

Meet the recipe that turned our senior editor Eric Kim into an eggplant believer. "The eggplant I knew, growing up, was a bland, bitter Korean banchan called gaji bokkeum (“stir-fried eggplant”). Sesame oil, burnt garlic, salt, maybe soy sauce," he writes. "This is not that." Instead, it's charred on a sheet pan, then tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, black pepper, and fresh mint.

5. Romanian Eggplant Spread (Potlagel)

In my family, it isn't a party without this simple-as-can-be eggplant spread. Here's how it goes: Roast an eggplant and bell pepper until they're soft and caramelized. Peel away the skin, then mix with raw onion and garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar, and don't be shy with the salt. Serve with crispy pita chips—lots of them.

We originally published this article in July 2018, but we're bringing it back to celebrate the return of eggplant season. What's your favorite way to make eggplant parm? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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  • Suzanne F
    Suzanne F
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.


Suzanne F. August 14, 2018
Thank you for recommending this shrimp recipe .... can’t wait to try it!
Suzanne F. August 14, 2018
Emma, I’m looking for a recipe I think you printed where you mix shrimp and butter and spices in a saucepan and let it marinate overnight, then bake the next day??? Was that you? Would you mind directing me to the article if it was. I think a group of Co-workers we’re comparing shrimp recipes! Thanks so much!!
Author Comment
Emma L. August 14, 2018
Hi! Not by me, but here's a similar-sounding shrimp recipe that I totally love:
Suzanne F. August 14, 2018
Made this recipe last night - was thrilled and amazed at how delicious it was without the fuss and mess of breading and frying the eggplant first!!!! Delisioso!! The buttered crispy cubed bread was the perfect amount of “crunch” to the smooth, creamy roasted eggplant and melted cheese!!
5 stars for sure & this will be my go-to recipe for the rest of eggplant season!!
Thank you from the bottom of my Italian heritage heart!!
Author Comment
Emma L. August 14, 2018
Thanks so much, Suzanne! So glad to hear you loved it.