Summer eggplant parmesan casserole of eggplant slices coated in pesto and cheeses, layered with tomato sauce lasagna-style for easy serving.
Eggplant hasn't always been in my grocery basket. And I won't wax eloquent on all the ways I enjoy eggplant. But eggplant and I formed a close friendship over this Baked Eggplant Parmesan Casserole. I've served it to friends who later confessed they were a little horrified eggplant was on my party dinner menu, but when they tried it, they begged for the recipe. And if you're wondering, yes, this is the same as Eggplant Parmegiana Casserole.
The inspiration came, as it often does, from a restaurant. A group of us at a food writing conference went to dinner one night, and a baked eggplant parmesan casserole served with pesto was the only vegetarian option on the menu. At that point of my eating life, I was pretty much 100% vegetarian. So I ended up ordering it, but lacked much enthusiasm over the whole thing. But when my meal arrived, I was the envy of the table. Seriously. And I ate every bite. Seriously.
When I returned back to my own kitchen, I had to try to duplicate it. I love pesto (don't you too?), so I made it a key ingredient in the dredging liquid for the eggplant slices. And I added black olives. The intense umami salty flavor of kalamata olives is a perfect foil for the other flavors. But don't overdo it.
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!
Baked Eggplant Parmesan Casserole with Pesto
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.