Bake Rather Than Fry
One of the great payoffs in Italian cooking is elevating common vegetables into lush, meat-like dishes. This recipe is no exception. Take an eggplant and encase it in breadcrumbs and then bake once and then again in marinara sauce and cheese to create this classic comfort dish.
This is a flexible template to substitute chicken or cauliflower for the eggplant for a different experience [see bottom].
I prefer to bake eggplant and skip the traditional frying step with excellent results; a chewy texture and no added oil and skillet work. Freeze the excess “naked” cutlets using wax paper between each slab so you can defrost just a few pieces to prepare at a later date.
Use jarred marinara, some mozzarella, and a little parmesan cheese. It’s fast to prep and bake. Serve with a side of pasta, or polenta and a side salad; you are into a home-meal of great deliciousness!
It’s a great as a “planned-over” filling for a toasted “hoagie” roll with extra cheese and sauce.
INGREDIENTS: Italian style eggplant, flour, eggs, panko* or traditional bread crumbs*, marinara sauce, grated parmesan, and slices of mozzarella cheese
*Panko is a Japanese style of super crisp crumbs that add texture to the eggplant. At most supermarkets and Asian stores.
TO PREPARE EGGPLANT:
1 Set out three large dinner plates in a row. In the left plate add about a cup of flour well mixed with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. (Add 2 tsp. dried oregano if desired).
In middle plate lightly whisk 2 eggs and 2 TBS. water, don’t over blend.
In the right plate add panko breadcrumbs [or dried seasoned breadcrumbs].
2 Peel eggplant and slice into 1/4-inch slices. These slices can be rounds, or slabs, as you like.
- Line a baking sheet with foil
- HINT: use only one hand throughout this breading process to keep one hand clean for other chores
- Lay a slice of eggplant onto plate with flour, press down then flip to coat other side, then tap off excess flour
- Next lay the slice in egg and flip to coat all sides, lift and drain excess egg
- Next drop the slice into the panko crumbs and coat all sides well. Lay the eggplant piece on the baking sheet
- Preheat oven to 375º F
- Continue to coat with remaining eggplant slices. You might need to bake the cutlets in two batches.
- Lightly spray each cutlet top with oil from aerosol sprayer
- Bake the eggplant for 15-25 minutes, until brown spots appear and crumbs have darkened. No need to flip!
- To make a two-person meal (easily doubled or tripled) choose the smallest oven-safe casserole that will fit the eggplant slabs. Or you can bake up a larger batch and then cool and freeze remainder for planned-overs
- Start building the dish by pouring enough marinara sauce to coat casserole by an 1/8”
- Lay in the baked eggplant cutlets
- Lay a basil leaf on each cutlet
- Sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on each cutlet
- Lay a slice of mozzarella cheese on each cutlet
- Pour marinara onto cutlet to coat by 1/8”
- Repeat with another set of cutlets to create a stack and repeat again with sauce and toppings. NOTE: some like to serve a single cutlet, I usually do a double stacker.
- The eggplant can be cut if needed to fit inside the casserole. Just coat each layer with sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and some fresh or chopped fresh basil.
FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO BAKE AND SERVE
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cover casserole with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and bake (or set to broil) for 5-10 minutes until cheese just begins to brown. DON’T LEAVE THE STOVE AREA WHILE BROWNING.
- NOTE: If pan is cold out of the fridge, add 10-15 extra minutes to bake time.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly; 15-20 minutes
ALTERNATE: CHICKEN PARMESAN
Slice skinless-boneless chicken breasts (or thighs) into 1/2” thick slabs, similar in shape to eggplant slices. Then repeat steps above to coat and bake as above. Then complete the dish and bake as noted.
ALTERNATE: CAULIFLOWER PARMESAN
Slice fresh cauliflower into 1/2” “steaks or florets.” Then repeat steps above.