Monday, April 20, 2015

Oven-Baked Eggplant Parmesan

I know what I'm about to say might spark some controversy...but Italian food is the best food.  Hands down.  I crave it each and every day and probably even dream about it at night and just don't remember.  Well, yesterday, I was at the 5-mile mark on my run and had an epiphany that I wanted Eggplant Parmesan for dinner.  Because who doesn't think about what they're going eat later with the calories they're currently burning?  That's a thing, right?  Except the more I thought about it, the more I really didn't want to spend my relaxing Sunday evening babysitting 20 pieces of eggplant on a super hot and oily stove.  So I put my thinking cap on and decided to invent an easier Oven-Baked Eggplant Parmesan recipe that tastes just as good as the real deal, but is literally half the effort and saves big-time on calories since it's baked rather than fried.  YUM!

Start by preheating the oven to 375°F.  This recipe moves pretty fast!  After I sliced 2 large eggplant into 3/8" slices, I laid out the ingredients for the breading.  Hope you have pie dishes on hand!  I put the flour in a shallow pie dish and added a dash of salt and pepper for some flavor.  Then I put the eggs in another pie dish and whisked them until they were completely beaten.  I just barely got by on 2 eggs, so you might need 3.  Then I put the panko bread crumbs and some grated parmesan cheese in another pie dish.  To bread the eggplant, just dip each slice into the flour first, then the egg and then the bread crumb mixture and place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and coated with nonstick cooking spray.

I ended up spraying the top of the eggplant with some nonstick cooking spray after they were all laid out to help them brown evenly  - then drizzled them with olive oil because the extra bit of fat really gives them that "fried" flavor without actually frying them.  I popped them in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the bottom is golden brown; the top will look uncooked at this point.  Flip each slice over and continue cooking another 20-25 minutes until the eggplant is golden brown all over.  So much easier (and cleaner!) than making it on the stove, am I right?!

Okay.  So your kitchen will smell soooo good at this point.  You might even consider just eating the eggplant without assembling everything together in the baking dish.  Don't do that!  I promise it's worth the extra 15 minute wait.

Now crank that oven up to 400°F because the we're blasting it with heat one more time and then it's done!  I layered a little bit of my homemade tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish so the eggplant and cheese don't stick.  I really suggest a homemade sauce, even if it isn't my recipe.  Since there aren't a ton of ingredients in this, homemade really makes all the difference.  I used canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh in the sauce since tomatoes still aren't perfectly in season at the grocery store.  But if you don't have time to make that while the eggplant cooks, just use a chunky store bought brand and add a little basil and oregano to give it more flavor.

I arranged half the eggplant in an even layer over the sauce and topped it with some fresh basil.  Then I added half the remaining sauce and topped it with half the mozzarella...

...then repeated the process again until it looks like this!

I baked it for 10-15 minutes until the sauce gets warm and the cheese is all gooey and starting to brown.  So delicious!

But I know everybody tastes through their eyes before their mouth, so served each in a cute ramekin and added a little sprinkle of Parmesan and some more fresh basil to make it look even better! SO GOOD.

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