This summer Eggplant Parmesan (aka Eggplant Parmigiana) takes eggplant slices coated in pesto, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese, and layers them lasagna-style with a fabulous roasted tomato - red pepper sauce you'll want to use for everything.
If you want to simplify this recipe, use your favorite jarred pasta sauce. Or make the pasta sauce ahead of time.
Updated August 10, 2022
Eggplant hasn't always been in my grocery cart. Frankly, it was a mystery to me how it ever got popular. I did try it once. A microscopic piece you could hardly see, and pronounced myself an eggplant-hater.
Or at least an eggplant-avoider.
But times change. For me the turning point came in culinary school with a Roasted Eggplant Tomato Soup. It was instant love, and I started making it at home every week.
Then I went to Italy and had a classic Sicilian pasta dish with eggplant, tomatoes and capers. When I came home, I started making THAT dish every week.
But it was when I traveled to upstate New York for a writing retreat with Molly O'Neill that I formed a lasting bond with eggplant.
It happened one night when I had an Eggplant Parmesan that was layered in a fresh basil pesto, cheeses, and a tomato sauce. It was the only vegetarian main dish on the menu, and I wasn't excited about it at all.
But when it arrived and I dug in, I was the envy of the entire table. And I ate every bite, and would have licked the plate if I could have.
And that was it. Eggplant and I were true friends.
What is Eggplant Parmesan?
I am an Italophile, meaning I have a deep appreciation for everything Italian. Its people, history, culture and food. And I love learning about the roots of food that most of us associate with Italy.
Eggplant Parmesan layers fried slices of breaded eggplant with cheese and a marinara sauce. It's then baked as a casserole, and is considered comfort food in Italy.
But where did it Eggplant Parmesan begin?
Naples may have contributed the mozzarella ingredient that's now a standard in this dish.
Parma, naturally lays claim because of the Parmesan cheese. Although the word Parmesan in the recipe title may refer to an Italian word translated as "shutters", for the layered appearance of this dish.
And Sicily lays claim to this dish since the eggplant likely found its way to Italy via Sicily with Arabs bringing foods from India. And if you think about it, Eggplant Parmesan is very similar to Moussaka, a popular Turkish eggplant dish.
Use this link for more information on the roots of the Eggplant Parmesan we know today.
Ingredients for Eggplant Parmesan
- Homemade Tomato Sauce - Nothing beats a homemade tomato sauce, and I have several on this blog. The recipe card below details one of my favorites. Or you can purchase your favorite jarred marinara sauce. If do this, I highly recommend Rao Marinara Sauce.
- Eggplant - I recommend smaller eggplant as they tend to be less bitter.
- Eggs - this is just to get the pesto, cheese and breadcrumbs to stick to the eggplant.
- Basil Pesto - it only takes a few minutes to make your own, or pick some up at the grocery.
- Flours - I use a combination of all-purpose and corn flours.
- Cheeses - I use a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
- Panko bread crumbs - to give the eggplant slices a little crunch.
- Herbs and spices - I use dried oregano, salt and pepper.
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Make the roasted tomato sauce. You can make this ahead of time, or just in time to make this casserole. Or if you're pressed for time, purchase a bottle of your favorite marinara.
Coat the slices of eggplant. Arrange 3 bowls on a work surface. Whisk together the eggs and pesto in the first bowl. Combine the flours, salt and pepper in the second bowl. And toss together the cheeses and breadcrumbs in the third. Slice the eggplant, and dip each slice in the first, second and then third bowl.
Crisp the breaded eggplant slices. Cook the eggplant slices on a very lightly oiled griddle or pan.
Layer the casserole and bake. Arrange the breaded eggplant slices in a baking dish with the roasted tomato sauce and cheeses. Bake.
Serve. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Whether to Salt and Drain Eggplant
In many dishes, eggplant is best salted and drained for a couple of hours to remove some liquid and temper its bitterness. I've made this casserole both ways, and it didn't make any difference at all. This is probably due to 2 reasons: (1) there are a lot of flavors going on in this dish to balance out any bitterness; and (2) the breading seals in the moisture. However, if you're interested in how to salt and drain eggplant, this is a good post to review.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan Casserole is a perfect dish to take advantage of fresh produce from your local farmer's market. Eggplant, tomatoes, basil are all at peak flavors right now, and easily found. Best of all, you can make all the components in advance, and package them up into the refrigerator. Then just assemble and slide it into the oven when you're ready for dinner, and serve it with garlic bread and a big salad.
Even Carnivorous Maximus eats this without any meat in sight, and doesn't miss it. (Gasp.)
Tips for Making Eggplant Parmesan Casseroles
The Chunky Roasted Tomato Sauce can be made a week ahead and stored in the refrigerator. In fact I like to always have some of this sauce around for quick pasta dinners with some chickpeas. But if you want to go super-easy, feel free to use your favorite jarred pasta sauce.
Another tomato sauce I like to use, which is easier, is this Meaty Roasted Tomato Sauce. While tomatoes are in peak season, make double and triple batches and freeze for the winter when tomatoes are not at their best.
Use a combination of Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes, particularly this time of year. The Roma tomatoes add a rich, meaty texture to the juicy Beefsteak variety.
Stack the eggplant slices on top of each other when assembling this lasagna-style casserole. This makes it easier to serve and creates natural serving sizes for a crowd.
Fontina cheese makes a fabulous substitute for mozzarella cheese if you have some on hand. But don't feel like you need to grate it up. I've laid thin sheets of it in the layers and it's worked beautifully!
Want more vegetarian and vegan dish ideas? I can help you. I have three newsletters for different topics: 1) Vegetarian Recipes, 2) Vegetarian Meal Plans, and 3) Vegetarian Tips for helping you to move to a more vegetarian diet. Choose which newsletters are most relevant to your lifestyle and you'll also get my 5 SECRETS TO FUSS-FREE VEGETARIAN DINNERS.
Eggplant Parmigiana with Pesto (Recipe)
Chunky Roasted Tomato Sauce
- 3 pounds Beefsteak tomatoes
- 1 pound Roma tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 sweet red bell peppers, sliced into large pieces
- ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Eggplant Pesto Parmesan
Chunky Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the tomatoes in half and arrange on the baking sheet, cut side facing up. Drizzle with olive oil, and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for one hour.
- Toss the garlic cloves in olive oil and add to the baking sheet. Add the red pepper slices. Roast for another 30 minutes.
- Cool, slip the peels from the tomatoes and garlic, and coarsely chop the peppers. Combine with the remaining sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, crushing the roasted tomatoes with your hands.
Eggplant Pesto Parmesan
- Arrange three small bowls on a work space and slice the eggplant into ½-inch rounds. Whisk the eggs together with the pesto in the first bowl. Stir together the flours, salt and pepper in the second bowl. Combine half of the cheeses, breadcrumbs and oregano in the third.
- Heat a griddle over medium heat, and lightly oil the pan.
- Dip an eggplant slice into the flour, followed by the egg-pesto mixture, and finally the cheeses. Place on the griddle. Repeat with enough eggplant to fill the griddle (I can fit around 8 slices of various sizes on mine). Cook for 5 minutes per side, until the eggplant surfaces are lightly browned. Stack and repeat with the remaining eggplant. For a 8 ½" X 12" baking pan, I typically use 16 slices.
- Make Ahead Tip: At this point, the tomato sauce can be poured into a jar and the eggplant parmesan carefully stacked in ziplock baggies. Tuck into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Arrange the eggplant, tomato sauce and remaining cheese in layers as in a lasagna, spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 8 ½" X 12" or 9" X 13" baking pan. Next arrange a layer of eggplant parmesan slices and sprinkle with ⅓ of the remaining cheese. Repeat the order, starting with half of the remaining tomato sauce, a final layer of eggplant slices, half of the remaining cheese, and the remaining tomato sauce.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Add the remaining cheese on top and bake another 15 minutes.
- Cool slightly before serving.