Eggplant Parmesan has always been one of my favorite dishes but since it’s usually breaded and fried, I had to give it up when I went gluten free.
Then I found this Baked Eggplant Parmesan recipe from Jamie Oliver in the NY Times and figured that I could make a few changes to accommodate my gluten challenges.
This version has all the good eggplant parm things going on with much less work and no deep frying – just layers of eggplant, cheese, and a fresh tasting tomato sauce.
I also figured that as much as I love Jamie and his cute, cute, cute British accent, he wouldn’t mind if I added some extra cheese and a little shot of wine to his recipe to give the sauce a little more oomph.
Here’s what you need:
Eggplants, Onion, Garlic, Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Red Wine (optional/not pictured), Tomato Paste (optional/not pictured), Mozzarella Cheese, Romano Cheese, Bread Crumbs (mine are GF), Oregano, Red Pepper Flakes (not pictured), Salt & Pepper
Eggplant can be sort of a funky vegetable to deal with. It acts like a sponge and soaks up whatever moisture you add to it so if you’re not careful, it can become flabby and sad.
A great way around this problem, and also around the deep frying, is to roast the eggplant slices to give them a little color and firm up the texture.
Another good suggestion is to buy 2 or 3 medium sized eggplants rather than the giant, bulbous ones you sometimes see in the store as the smaller eggplants will be much firmer and have fewer seeds.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Slice the eggplants into circles about ½-inch thick.
Place the slices in a single layer on baking trays and brush the top and bottom LIGHTLY with olive oil.
Remember how I said they act like a sponge? Watch the oil disappear but don’t feel that you have to add more than a light coating.
Place the trays in the 450° oven and bake 10 minutes until golden brown on the BOTTOM. You can see this by taking a quick peek with a spatula.
I was waiting for them to get golden on top but you either have to flip them all over as the original recipe suggests or simply turn on the broiler for 1-2 extra minutes to get the top golden as well.
I’ve found that the broiler method works much better to keep the eggplant slices from cooking too much and becoming soggy.
Once the eggplant comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temp to 375 degrees.
If you’re good at multi-tasking, you can get your chopping out of the way while the eggplant cooks.
Finely chop 1 onion to equal about 1 ½ cups and 2-3 cloves of garlic.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion and sauté until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.
Open 1 (28 oz.) can of Italian plum tomatoes (whole tomatoes) and using the lid or your hand as a sieve, pour the tomato juice into the pot.
Then take out the tomatoes one or two at a time and give them a squeeze to break them apart.
You don’t want to wear your favorite white shirt while you’re squeezing tomatoes but if you do this right over the pot, you shouldn’t have a mess.
You can buy pre-diced tomatoes, but the texture of the whole tomatoes, especially the real Italian ones, is much thicker so your sauce will be fuller and less runny.
Season with 2 teaspoons of dried oregano and salt & pepper to taste.
Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Once the sauce has thickened, take it off the heat and add 1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
As I mentioned, I also added a nice shot (maybe 1/4 cup) of good red wine to give the sauce a little more body.
If you add the wine, you should also add 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste so that the sauce doesn’t get too watery. Even if you don’t add the wine, you might want to add the paste for a little extra body to the sauce.
Just to kick things up I added a good pinch of red pepper flakes too.
Stir in ½ cup of chopped fresh basil leaves.
I’m sure I had more than ½ cup of basil since I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much fresh basil.
Give the sauce a taste and adjust the salt, pepper, and other seasonings to your preference.
Spoon a thin layer of sauce into the bottom of a baking dish with high sides.
Add a layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle with a bit (about ¼ cup) of grated parmesan or romano cheese.
Add a little more sauce and tear up some fresh mozzarella to make a cheesy layer.
Continue adding layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese until you’ve filled up the dish with all your ingredients.
I like to reserve a little extra sauce for the very top layer then I cover it with 1/3 cup of my homemade gluten free bread crumbs.
You can obviously use standard store bought dried bread crumbs but I have to say that since I now make my own breadcrumbs, I realize how much better they are than those little dried out store bought bits.
Pop this into the preheated 375 degree oven and bake for 45 minutes.
When it’s done, you’ll have layers of gooey cheese between layers of roasted eggplant under a lovely golden topping of bread crumbs.
You definitely need to let this rest for 5-10 minutes to set up.
Also, Baked Eggplant Parmesan is even BETTER reheated the next day.
Since many of us resolve to eat healthier with the start of a New Year, taking a recipe that was once battered and deep fried and changing that to healthier roasting and baking is a pretty delicious place to start.
Here’s the recipe – Adapted from Jamie Oliver