Eggplant Parmesan is a beloved dish, especially in Italy and the United States. Some say the classic dish originated in Sicily, while others advocate for Naples or Parma. Like many traditional dishes, the way it’s prepared depends on where you are and who’s cooking it, but any combination of tender eggplant layered with tomato sauce and melted cheese is bound to be pretty delicious.
Oftentimes, the eggplant for this dish is breaded and fried, but that can be a messy, time-consuming process. Here, the eggplant is baked until tender, then layered with sauce, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan breadcrumbs, which gives you the effect of breaded eggplant with much less effort.
Because the eggplant is the star of this recipe, you’ll want to treat it with care. First of all, remove about half of the skin with a vegetable peeler to create a striped appearance, which is fun and functional. You’ll peel off a long strip of skin, move over an inch or so and then peel again, continuing all the way around the veggie. Removing half of the skin makes it easier to slice through the cooked eggplant!
Another crucial step? Salting the sliced eggplant and letting it sit for about an hour, which removes a lot of moisture and helps season the veggie. Some cooks contend that salting the eggplant removes bitterness, but these days, most of the bitterness in eggplants has been bred out of the vegetable.
Once the eggplant is baked, it’s assembly time. Start with a layer of sauce (we used jarred, but you can absolutely make your own sauce), then add eggplant, the Parmesan panko mixture, slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. Repeat that process a few more times, then bake until bubbly.
Technique Tip: Salting the eggplant on cooling racks not only helps with drainage, but also reduces the number of paper towels you’ll need to use here.
Swap Option: Fresh mozzarella adds a fresh, creamy flavor to the dish, but pre-shredded mozzarella works, too.
- 2 large eggplants (about 2 pounds)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce
- 12 ounces fresh mozzarella
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil, plus more for garnish (optional)
Using a vegetable peeler, peel off stripes of the eggplant skin, leaving strips of skin between each peeling to create a striped appearance. Cut the eggplant crosswise into ¼-inch thick round medallions.2.
Divide the eggplant slices between two wire rack-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle the salt all over the eggplant. Let sit for 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F.3.
Using paper towels, pat the eggplant slices dry on both sides. Remove the cooling racks and arrange the eggplant on the baking sheets. Drizzle the eggplant with 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Roast until tender and browned, flipping the eggplant slices halfway through cooking, about 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.4.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the panko breadcrumbs and toast, stirring often, until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmesan.5.
In a 9-inch square baking dish, spread a generous ¾ cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish. Top with a third of the eggplant, arranging in a single layer. Sprinkle with ½ cup of the Panko-Parmesan mixture, a third of the mozzarella, and half of the fresh basil. Repeat the layers two more times, ending with the panko layer. (There will be no basil on the final layer.)6.
Cover loosely with foil and bake until the cheese melts, the eggplant is heated through and the sauce is bubbly, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese browns, about 10 minutes longer.7.
Let rest about 5 minutes before serving. Top with basil, if using.