Growing up, my Mom made an eggplant dish about once a year that was basically chopped up eggplant mixed with homemade marinara sauce, garnished with Parmesan cheese. The only way I could swallow the evil stuff was to absolutely drown it in Parmesan–I’m pretty sure I used half a bottle of the grated cheese every time she made it. It’s not that the taste was terrible, the marinara was always good, as was the Parmesan, but the eggplant itself was spongy and a bit bitter, so I had to distract myself by making it super cheesy in order eat it.
Despite never fully enjoying this dish, I was convinced that I would enjoy eggplant if prepared differently. I really wanted to try making eggplant Parmesan, sensing that frying eggplant and making it crispy could be the key. But for some reason, I just never got around to it. Probably because I had been tainted by a long history of a dish with similar elements that was always abhorrent to me. I finally tried eggplant on a pizza (click here for the recipe: Eggplant & Olive Pizza) and then in baba ghanoush (a Middle Eastern roasted eggplant dip) and discovered I was right, I did like eggplant!
Well, finally, in a lower-carbohydrate phase of our diet last month, I decided to try my hand at eggplant parmesan, using only cheese for “breading” before frying it. It. was. fabulous. I’m sure I’d love it with the breading as well, but this was truly delicious and in my opinion, need not be changed. I seriously can not wait to make this again. I’m now a full-fledged eggplant convert. They key, it seems, is not so much in the frying, which obviously doesn’t hurt, but in the salting and draining prior to cooking. This takes away the bitterness and makes the eggplant flavor much more enjoyable.
I also want to take a moment to mention the tomato sauce, which I snagged from Jenna’s blog and kicked up a notch with fire-roasted tomatoes, and a touch of fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. This is my most favorite marinara sauce I’ve made to date, very flavorful and a great compliment to the eggplant. It makes a large batch, so you’ll have enough leftover to freeze for future eggplant Parmesan meals, or to ladle over pasta. It gives me such a heady feeling to know this delicious sauce is waiting for me in pre-portioned bags in the freezer, and all I have to do is defrost it in order to enjoy it again. Thanks for the wonderful recipe, Jenna!
One last note: the fried garlic is totally optional but I highly recommend you throw some cloves into the oil while you’re frying your eggplant. I discovered that frying garlic gives the same flavor as roasting it, sweetening it and making it so delicious you can just pop the whole thing into your mouth without any of the sulphurous burning that usually accompanies such an act with raw garlic. It is so delicious, I’ve found it to be addictive! I ended up keeping this part of the recipe secret from my husband, who arrived after I’d eaten an entire bulb of fried garlic because I couldn’t keep my hands off of it after I popped the first clove into my mouth. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. :)
I’m submitting this recipe to Renee for this week’s BSI (Blogger Secret Ingredient contest): Parmesan.
Low-Carb Eggplant Parmesan with Fried Garlic
1 medium eggplant, peeled
¼ cup water
1 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
½ cup olive or canola oil
1 bulb of garlic, peeled
1 ½ cups Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce, warmed
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Peel and slice eggplant into ¼” thick slices. Sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and place in a colander set over a bowl. Allow the eggplant to drain for 30-45 minutes or until 2 tablespoons of water have been drawn out from the eggplant. Tear off three sets of two sheets of paper towels (each set of two still connected), stack together, then lay out eggplant slices on top of it. Tear off another three sets of two paper towels, lay on top of the eggplant, and press down firmly on each slice to draw out excess moisture.
In a flat-bottomed bowl large enough in diameter to fit the largest eggplant slices, whisk the eggs and water together until foamy. Put the Parmesan cheese on a plate and have your garlic powder nearby. Line a baking sheet with foil, sprinkle evenly with garlic powder, and set nearby.
Dip each eggplant slice in the egg mixture, shake off, then sprinkle both sides with Parmesan. Lay the slices on the prepared baking sheet as you finish them. Once all slices are coated, sprinkle garlic powder on top.
Heat a cast iron or other heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom well and come up about 1/8”. Place as many eggplant slices in the skillet as will fit, and tuck as many of the cloves of garlic in between them as you can. Fry the eggplant until the first side is golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip. Flip the garlic cloves when then skin is golden brown and bubbled. Once the second side is golden brown, remove to a cooling rack lined with paper towels to drain. Remove the garlic as it is finished cooking as well. Continue cooking eggplant in batches until all is fried. If the first batch of eggplant has cooled too much by the time you are finished frying it all, pour out the oil in the skillet and add them back in to reheat for a minute. Alternately, as the eggplant is drained, you can add them to a foil-lined baking sheet and keep them in a warm oven until ready to serve.
To serve, arrange eggplant slices on plates with fried garlic scattered around. Scoop tomato sauce over the top and garnish with Parmesan and parsley, if desired. Serve hot.
Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 (14.5 oz) cans fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
2 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for about 2 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot, and some salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, and cover the pot with a splatter screen. Turn down the heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour.
Remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth. Allow the sauce to cool completely and, if not using immediately, pour it into freezer bags in 1-2 cup portions. It will keep frozen for about 6 months.