Some recipes are just way too veggieful to ever make it past my husband’s watchful eye and onto his dinner plate. Particularly one like this, where a vegetable is not only the star attraction, but also gets top billing. So, on those nights when I am left to my own devices, I have a dinner like this…
What I love most about this recipe is how Jamie Oliver has significantly lightened up a dish that is normally quite heavy by not frying the eggplant, and yet it still has a wonderful richness of flavor. In his book, Jamie’s Italy, the recipe calls for the eggplant to be prepared on a stove-top grill pan. In last week’s New York Times, the recipe appeared as follows:
3 medium-large eggplants, cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can no-salt plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves (or not)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as needed
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, optional
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two or more baking sheets. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onion. Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and dried oregano and sauté another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, breaking up whole tomatoes with your hands. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Add vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Into a 9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan, spoon a small amount of tomato sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and oregano, if using, with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.
4. Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and center is hot, 30 to 45 minutes depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
I have prepared this recipe twice now, both times taking a bit of a shortcut and using my own homemade marinara that I had already prepared for a different dish. On this occasion, I omitted the breadcrumb topping, and I wish I hadn’t, as it gave the dish a flavor component that you expect from eggplant parmesan. I also just now realized that I have been cutting the eggplant lengthwise by mistake, but really, who cares? It was still delicious! Perhaps I will chop up some of the leftovers and throw it into a pasta dish…I smell a veggie fake out coming on!