THE BLOG
01/01/2011 10:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eggplant Parm is not Just for Vegetarians

We are die-hard carnivores in this household but we still have a healthy appreciation for vegetables, especially vegetables that can imitate or hold its own with meat. Case in point: Eggplant.

For the first 27 years of my life, I hated eggplant. That's not true. For the first few years, eggplant was not part of my food vocabulary. Then once introduced, it became my nemesis. You can ask my stepmother, since we battled over it at the dinner table on many occasions. I, lover of all things fried and cheesy, hated eggplant so much I wouldn't eat eggplant parm. Somewhere along the line, I was tasked with making a vegetarian dish for a potluck. I wanted something hearty and meaty, and wouldn't you know, eggplant parm fit the bill. Hey, just because I make it doesn't mean I have to eat it! But I did taste it, and now eggplant parm is my friend.

Listen here, please don't go out and buy pre-breaded, frozen eggplant slices, slap some cheese and sauce on it, then serve it up. You can do better than that. Much better. Here's a recipe for you. (Give yourself a good hour and a half to make this recipe, from prep to done.)

Ingredients:

1 nice-sized eggplant, bigger is better than smaller.
1 or 2 eggs, depending on how many slices of eggplant you have.
Bread crumbs (regular, panko, whatever)
Flour
Your favorite tomato sauce (when tomatoes are in season, I make my own. When they aren't, I dig Trader Joe's sauce.)
1 package low-moisture mozzarella (either full fat or part skim, just don't get fat-free. Also, this is not the place for fancy fresh mozzarella.)
Salt&Pepper
High heat oil, such as canola or grapeseed

Part One:
1. Peel the eggplant. If you're lazy, you can leave the skin on but it's better to peel it. Otherwise, it becomes a stringy mess and looks nasty on the plate when you're done.
2. Slice the eggplant into rounds 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, discarding the end pieces. In other words, not too thick, not too thin.
3. Fit a cooling rack into a rimmed baking sheet or shallow pan. Arrange eggplants rounds in one layer.
4. Liberally salt the eggplant rounds to drain moisture from the eggplant. Cover with saran wrap and pop into the fridge. Catch up on some of your DVR'd shows or do some light housekeeping.
5. When you come back to check on it, you should see moisture in the pan (the salt at the bottom of the pan will be wet). That means the salt has drawn out the water from the eggplant, and it's ready to go.
6. Remove eggplant to a paper towel and pat the rounds dry.

Part Two:
0. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Prepare your breading station. Beat the eggs into a bowl big enough to dip the rounds in. Pour breadcrumbs and flour in separate piles on plates or sheets of parchment/wax paper.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
3. Pour a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a Pyrex or lasagne pan. Keep the pan nearby.
4. Dredge rounds one by one through flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, tapping off the excess after each dredging and place into hot oil. Pace yourself and don't crowd the skillet. Cook until browned on one side, then flip and brown the other side.
5. Create a layer of eggplant rounds in the pan, spread more sauce on top and top each round with a slice of mozzarella.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you run out of eggplant rounds. The last (top) layer should be cheese.
7. Place pan into pre-heated oven, and cook until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted and browned on top, about 20-30 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before serving, perhaps with a nice green salad and some crusty bread. I recommend red wine, if that's your thing.