This is my Nonna's recipe, and most of the ingredients came from her beloved garden. She used to fry the eggplant in egg and flour, but I use only flour and cook the eggplant on baking sheets in a hot oven. I always thought the egg batter soaked up too much of the sauce. My version makes it lighter and creamier, plus you use a lot less oil. —Nancy Jo
Test Kitchen Notes
Eggplant Parm is all about balance: The texture of the eggplant should be neither soggy nor undercooked. The sauce should have a sweet tomato flavor that complements the slightly bitter eggplant. And there should be *lots* of cheese (we’re not going to justify this one—it’s just better this way, trust us). All the cooking here is centered around getting the eggplant and tomatoes to the right consistency so that when you fuse them, the sauce isn’t watery and the eggplant isn’t sad and soft. Nancy Jo accomplishes this by baking slabs of flour-dusted eggplant in the oven with just a trace of oil. Too much and the dish will become greasy, which will distract you from all of the other delicious flavors happening in the pan. If cooked properly, the eggplant should come out as stiff as cards. She recommends choosing large eggplants that feel firm to the touch and have a smooth skin. If possible, pick male eggplants, which have fewer seeds and a rounder, smoother bottom. The tomatoes—in this case, that’s two cans of high-quality San Marzano tomatoes—are cooked down in the pan until pulpy.
When the two meet in a baking dish (Nancy Jo likes to use ceramic or earthenware, but you can use stainless steel as well), the eggplant soaks up some tomato juices but retains its own character, so you get distinct layers. And she adds the mozzarella as a center layer, so you get the warm melted cheese right in the belly of the dish. Use fresh mozzarella, which is creamy and even a little sweet. After all, if you’re putting in the effort of making eggplant Parm from scratch, you may as well use the good stuff. There’s a full cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, which we recommend buying in block form and then grating yourself for the freshest possible flavor (feel free to throw it in the food processor to make quick work, rather than grating by hand on a Microplane). If you must buy pre-grated, purchase it from a cheesemonger or a grocery store with a trusty cheese department. Check the date on the package to see when it was grated, and choose the most recent one.
You don’t have to serve the eggplant Parm with pasta, but you should absolutely serve it with thick slices of crusty bread like focaccia or ciabatta to sop up all of the excess sauce.
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 2 hours
- Serves 6
Extra-virgin olive oil
buffalo-milk mozzarella (if the balls are small, get two)
Extra-virgin olive oil
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 28 ounces
cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- Peel the eggplant and slice it lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Sprinkle each layer with salt and place into a colander, overlapping and salting as you go. After you fill the colander, place a plate on top and weigh it down with a heavy pan or a tea kettle filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for at least 30 minutes.
- While the eggplant sweats, make the tomato sauce: Cover the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook until it sizzles (do not brown the garlic, as it will quickly become bitter). Add the tomatoes with their juices and a big pinch of salt. Coarsely crush the tomatoes using a potato masher or pair of scissors. Lower the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are reduced by almost half, stirring frequently.
- Heat the oven to 450°F. Cover the bottom of two sheet pans with olive oil.
- While the oven heats up, remove the eggplant from the colander and thoroughly pat dry each slice. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Place on the sheet pans and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Bake until browned on one side (about 15 minutes), then turn over and brown the other side. Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant.
- Using a 7x11-inch baking dish spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and layer the eggplant until it completely covers the bottom.
- Sprinkle the eggplant generously with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella. Finish with a couple more layers of eggplant, sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finish the top with more Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Lower the oven temperature to 400°F. Bake on the upper third rack for 20 minutes. Check in: If the dish looks especially liquid, remove it from the oven and discard a few spoonfuls. Bake for another 15 minutes or so. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.