C = cup
# = pound
T = tablespoon
t = teaspoon
oz = ounce
2 # Italian eggplants
kosher salt, for seasoning
1 white onion
4 cloves garlic
¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
2 T crushed red pepper flakes
½ t kosher salt
½ t freshly ground black pepper
2 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 T unsalted butter
1 T cane sugar
1 C all-purpose unbleached flour
¼ C pasteurized whole milk
1½ C panko
1½ t dried oregano
1½ t crushed red pepper flakes
extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
4 oz fresh basil
½ # grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 # shredded pasteurized mozzarella
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 pinch flake salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil, for garnish
Thoroughly wash 2 pounds of Italian eggplant under cool, running, drinkable water. Cut the eggplant into ½-inch rounds.
Place a cooling rack into a large rimmed baking sheet. Place the eggplant rounds on the cooling rack and heavily season with kosher salt. Let sit for 1 hour—yes, 1 hour. This will remove excess moisture from the eggplant rounds resulting in a much crispier eggplant texture. *Do not skip this step*. It will be worth it, promise! Meanwhile, make the sauce.
Thinly slice 1 white onion and press 4 cloves of garlic.
In a deep pan over medium heat, add ¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Once heated, add the thinly sliced onion to the pan. Cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
Next, add 2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and the pressed garlic. Stir to combine.
Then, stir in the two cans of 28-ounce crushed tomatoes.
Cut 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter into smaller slices. Add to the pan, along with 1 tablespoon of cane sugar.
Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat. Thoroughly wash 1 lemon (including the rind) under cool, running, drinkable water. Slice in half. Squeeze ½ lemon into the sauce, stir and then taste test—the sauce should be borderline too spicy on its own. But do not worry, once we add all the eggplant and cheese it will be the perfect amount of spice kick! Set sauce aside to cool.
Next, preheat the oven to 350°F and set up your 3-pan workstation.
In Pan 1: add 1 cup of all-purpose unbleached flour.
In Pan 2: whisk together 4 eggs and ¼ cup of pasteurized whole milk.
In Pan 3: mix together 1½ cups of panko, 1½ teaspoons of dried oregano, and 1½ teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes.
In a deep pan, add 1 inch of extra-virgin olive oil. You will know the oil is hot enough when you toss in a pinch of panko and it immediately sizzles. Then lower the heat slightly while you bread the eggplant rounds.
Pat dry the moisture off each eggplant round with a paper towel. Using tongs, dip a round into Pan 1 (flour) and shake off any excess. Then dip into Pan 2 (egg and milk) and shake off any excess. Lastly, dip into Pan 3 (seasoned panko) and share off any excess.
Fry the rounds in batches of 4-5 rounds so that they aren’t crowded in the pan of hot oil and so you can adjust the heat if necessary. If they are browning too quickly, turn the heat down. If they are taking too long to fry up—increase the heat accordingly. It’s a fine balance, be patient. Brown on both sides, then using tongs remove them and allow to drain back on the cooling rack inset on the large rimmed baking sheet.
Work in batches: while the eggplant rounds are frying up, start dredging the next batch. Once all eggplant rounds are fried, soak up any extra oil with a gentle pat of a paper towel on each round.
Now let’s set up your assembly workstation. Gather your fried eggplant, sauce and a 1-cup measuring cup, ½ pound of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon, and freshly washed basil leaves. Divide 1 pound of shredded pasteurized mozzarella into thirds.
In a large square pan (9 x 9-inch or 8 x 8-inch), evenly spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom and create an even single layer of fried eggplant—you may need to cut some rounds to fit properly. Garnish each eggplant round with 2 leaves of basil each. Tear the one hunk of mozzarella into bite-sized pieces and spread over the eggplant. Sprinkle 2 heaping spoonfuls of Parmigiano-Reggiano over.
Repeat on the second layer with 2 cups of sauce, rounds of eggplant, 2 basil leaves per eggplant, the second hunk of mozzarella torn into bite-sized pieces, and 2 heaping spoonfuls of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Repeat on the third layer with 2 cups of sauce and the remaining rounds of eggplant. Gently press down on the eggplant to make it more compact. Continue with garnishing 2 basil leaves per round, the third hunk of mozzarella torn into bite-sized pieces, and the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and pop into the oven. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes once the cheese is melted and bubbly. For extra browning, put under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Let cool a little bit so that the dish can firm up and slice easier. Once ready to eat, slice up and squeeze the remaining ½ lemon, a pinch of flake salt, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and more basil if desired. Eat up, Mama!
Once cooled completely, store leftovers in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer. Your future self will thank you kindly.
This is a subscription feature. Please subscribe or log in to your account.Close