Eggplant Parmesan Stacks

    I like many different vegetables, but one that I really love, is eggplant.  It’s so versatile!  You can stuff it, roll up filled slices of it, layer it with cheese and herbs, make a relish with it, bread it, bake it, broil it, or do like my dad used to do with zucchini ….. fry it up and have it in a sandwich!  DELICIOUS!!
    Eggplant Parmesan is probably one of the most popular ways to eat eggplant.  Although I love it, I haven’t loved all the steps needed to put it together.  As I mentioned in my post about apple fritters, I don’t like the smell of things frying in a lot of oil and, typically, to make eggplant parmesan, you dredge the slices of eggplant in flour, dip them in egg, then in breadcrumbs, before you fry them in lots of oil!  Some time ago I saw this recipe on the show Mad Hungry with Lucinda Scala Quinn that really caught my attention. 

    It uses all the ingredients you’d expect, but there’s no dredging or dipping and, most importantly to me, no frying in all that oil!  Each person gets their own little tower of eggplant parmesan deliciousness and there’s no trying to cut through all those layers of  cheese and eggplant, hoping to keep things somewhat intact. 
    This was a hit the first time I made it and continues to be gobbled up when I serve it.  Kids can be funny about veggies sometimes, but my two youngest love this!  Now, I make my marinara sauce different at different times, depending on what I’m using it for.  For this recipe I’ve made a simple marinara from Lidia’s Italy in America.  I’ve altered both of the recipes a bit ( I say that a lot, don’t I? ).  But, really, that’s part of the fun of cooking.  Find a good basic recipe and then play with it and make it your own.
    First of all, I’ll tell you how I make the sauce.  It uses a lot of garlic, but don’t be afraid!  The flavor is delicious!  If you’re not a garlic lover ( it’s hard for me to imagine ) you could add some onion instead, or even use a store-bought sauce.  I’ve always loved to make most things from scratch….it’s one of the ways I show my love to my family, and in an Italian family, food really is love.   But….whatever you have the time and desire to do…..do.

 
Basic Marinara

1 (28 oz.) can San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, whole with juices
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup peeled and sliced garlic
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup hot water
1- 1 1/4 tsp. salt, according to your taste
A couple stalks of fresh basil

    The first thing you want to do is pour the tomatoes and their juices into a mixing bowl (don’t throw the can away yet).  Then, using your hands, or the hands of a willing short person (this is fun!), squish up the tomatoes into small pieces, removing any obvious pieces of core or skin.

A word about tomatoes:  San Marzano really are the best for your sauces because they have a strong tomato taste, few seeds, and meatier flesh.  They are grown in Italy, in the region of Campania, near Naples. If you look at the can in the above picture, you’ll see D.O.P. on the front.  This certifies that the tomatoes have been locally grown and produced in that area, not just distributed or manufactured there.  They are more expensive, but delicious, and I love knowing that I’m using something straight from Italy.  If you’re interested in knowing more about these tomatoes, look here.  Now, back to the recipe…
    Pour the olive oil into a large skillet or a dutch oven.  Scatter in the garlic slices and set over med.-high heat.  Cook until the slices are sizzling and push aside to make room for the red pepper flakes.  Toast the flakes for another 30 seconds.

    Stir the garlic until it’s light golden and just starting to darken.  (Watch carefully….not the time to make a call)  Immediately pour in the tomatoes and stir around with the garlic.  You should hear a nice sizzle!  Pour the water into the empty tomato can, swish around to clean all the tomato off the sides, and pour into the pot (Frugality is another Italian trait).  Raise the heat, add the salt, and stir.  Push the stalks of basil down into the sauce until completely covered.

 
    When the sauce has come to a boil, cover the pan, reduce the heat slightly, and cook at an active bubbling simmer for 10 minutes.  Uncover, and cook for another 10 minutes or so….until it’s reduced to your liking.  Then, remove the basil and blend up the sauce with an immersion blender, right in the pot.  This will get rid of any big pieces of garlic. ( If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the sauce cool a little and blend it up in a regular blender or food processor.  If the sauce is still hot, remove the little center piece from the blender top and cover the hole with a towel to prevent pressure building up and splattering.)  Now your sauce is ready to be used in your recipe.

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks       (serves 4)

1 eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds
olive oil, for brushing slices
Kosher salt
3/4 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup plus 2 tblsp. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
2 1/4 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
3 tblsp. chopped basil
1 1/2 tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 recipe Basic Marinara
1 1/4 # fresh mozzarella, sliced in 1/4″ thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish

    Trim off the ends of the eggplant and slice it into about 1/3″ thick slices.  Gather the slices in groups of three, matching the size as much as you can.

A word about eggplant:  When you go to buy eggplant, look for fairly firm ones.  If there’s no give when you press against it, it was picked too early…..if you leave an indentation when you press, it’s overripe.  It should have a little give.  You want an eggplant with smooth, shiny skin, and no brown or soft spots.  Japanese eggplants have a more consistent diameter from one end to the other and work very well for this type of recipe, but globe eggplants seem to be more readily available, at least in my area, and work very well.  Your stacks just won’t all be the exact same size.  But, I think that works well for a family, because even the kids can feel special with their own little stack, instead of having to have one of the bigger stacks cut in half  for them.

    Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil, season with the salt, and place seasoned-side down on a stove top grill or grill pan that has been preheating over medium-high.  Then brush and season the second side when they’re on the grill.  Cook the slices for 8-10 minutes, turning once.  (You’ll be grilling these in batches so keep track of which slices go together.)  When the slices come off the grill, stack them up again. 

    In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, pepper, oregano, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil and stir to combine.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Now you’re ready to assemble.

    Get out a sheet pan that has sides, and line it with parchment paper.  It’s easiest to assemble each stack right on the sheet pan.  Each stack will consist of 1 eggplant slice, some marinara, breadcrumb mixture, and slice of fresh mozzarella, repeated 3 times.  You can finish off the top with a bit more crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

    Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is bubbling. You can remove them all to a platter or each one to an individual plate.

 

Serve immediately with a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and another sprinkling of Parmesan.  And don’t forget to pass the rest of the marinara at the table, in case people want extra.  ENJOY!!


See this  printable recipe .  

 
   



     

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