healthy BAKE no fry EGGPLANT parmesan {Melanzane alla Parmigiana}

From the Spaniard's 'Berengenas' an aphrodisiac referral of 'the Apple of Love' ...
to the Italian's assumed insanity causing 'Mala Insana' a.k.a 'the Mad apple'...
the EGGPLANT has become and remains a favourite of ours.

A few years ago, here I was in one of Sicily's small town markets...in company of one of my favourite 'Rosa Bianca' eggplant a.k.a. 'the Sicilian' as well as named the 'Berghah' for others.

This heirloom variety encloses tiny seeds with practically no bitterness to be offended by...my kind of eggplant ;o)

Although the eggplant is now found in our stores year round...
our peak eggplant picking season has inspired newly created dishes to my table.
Amongst the ongoing culinary adventures...was FINALLY making the...
 closest replica of my Nonna's unbeatable tasting fried 'Melanzana Parmigiana'.  

Since her passing, a few in the family have tried making it with some success.  
I, had always somehow excluded myself from making her dish for fear of being disappointed.  
My Nonna's touch in the kitchen, especially when it came to this dish was irreproachable.
  I also resist the urge to fry anything in my kitchen.  

I always thought, what a shame it had been not to ever giving her amazing recipe a try.  
Well, it was finally time to change all this nonsense.  
Why not start experimenting with my usual and successful baking method.  
So I did...and what a ride it has been since then.  

Oh...and I forgot to mention...
I also eliminated the use of refined white flour...
replaced by chickpea flour instead.
Homemade bread crumbs also enhanced the outcome ;o)

First, here's a delectable sandwich assembly.  
' Melanzane in Carrozza '
Eggplant sandwiches

The easily available 'Black Beauty' eggplant got baked to perfection.
It then got assisted in show-casing a great combination of flavours:
Creamy Goat cheese,  basil Pesto and fresh Tomatoes
...sandwiched (in 'Carrozza') in between baked Eggplant slices.
Note: Directions for baking eggplant slices is described in the recipe below

Now back to honouring my Nonna’s specialty.
The challenge was re-creating the 'quasi' same culinary experience without having to fry the eggplant.
Admittedly, breaking with the traditional fried eggplant slices had brought on a worrisome cloud.
Would baking the coated eggplant slices fool anyone?  
Well, my Mommy gave my version very high praises...and I fully agreed on this one ;o) 

Do we still 'sweat the small stuff' or not?
The bitterness caused by the eggplant's close 'tobacco' relative contains bitter Nicotinoid Alkaloid seeds.  
This has swayed many to keep adding the extra step of sweating the eggplant with salt.

Today, most hybrids have been rid of this pesky bitterness, however, I still prefer not taking chances.
I always will sweat the small stuff...well, at least where the eggplant is concerned.

Here’s my interpretation of my Nonna’s ’Melanzane alla Parmigiana’

Bake NO Fry 
EGGPLANT parmesan
' Melanzane Parmigiana della Nonna ' 
8 servings

Click HERE for a PRINTER version

(American / Metric measures):

Tomato - Sausage Sauce (best made ahead):
. 2 Tbsps.(30ml) each: E.V.O. and Grape seed oils
. 2 cups (500ml) total, finely chopped: onion, red bell pepper, celery and carrots
. 2 large garlic clove, finely minced
. 4 medium sized, mild, Italian sausages, de-cased
. 1/8 cup (30ml) Sherry 
. 2 cans x 28oz. (796ml) 'San Marzano' Italian tomatoes, mashed
. 14 oz. (398ml) water
. 1 Tbsp. (15ml) sea salt
. 1 tsp. (5ml) dried herbs: basil, marjoram, sage
. a few 'Laurier' leaves (optional)

Eggplant slices: (can also be made ahead)
. 3 large Eggplants - ('Black Beauty' - makes about 27 slices OR 'Sicilian' eggplants- 18 slices)
. sea salt (to generously sprinkle slices )
. 1/2 cup (75g) Chickpea flour (or A.P. flour)
. 3 large eggs, whisked + 1/2 tsp.(2.5ml) garlic powder + 1 tsp.(5ml) sea salt
. 2 cups (120g) breadcrumb (homemade preferred)

Assembly for Melanzane Parmegiana:
. prepared Tomato Sausage sauce
. pre-baked eggplant slices
. 1 cup (80g) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, packed
. 1 cup (70g) Friulano (or Mozzarella, Provolone etc.) cheese, shredded, packed

Note: If you'd like to try coating eggplants other than using an egg mix...try a blend of plain yogurt and a little amount of Dijon mustard...results will pleasantly surprise you ;o)


Tomato - Sausage sauce:  (Prepare Tomato sauce ahead of time...up to a few days if desired).
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oils on medium-high heat.  Sauté the finely chopped vegetables.  After 10 minutes of sweating, add the minced garlic and the sausage broken into pieces.  
2. Once the sausage is properly seared, pour the Sherry and let the alcohol evaporate.   
3. Add the tomatoes, water and the seasoning.  Bring the tomato to a boil and then lower, semi-covered and to a simmering heat for about 2-1/2 hours.  Lastly add the dried herbs and combine.  Close the stove's heat and leave the sauce covered until ready to assemble the Eggplant Parmesan.  
Note: If this sauce is to be made way ahead of time, make sure that after refrigeration, you lightly heat the sauce without having it boil. 

Eggplant slices: (can also be made ahead)
4. Slice each eggplant into 1/4 inch (0.5cm) units.  Use the smaller ends for another recipe or finely mince it and add to the tomato sauce when sautéing the vegetables.
5. Reduce the moisture and possible bitterness by placing eggplant slices onto a rack over a pan.  Sprinkle  salt in between layers.  Cover with another reversed pan with a final large weight to excrete moisture.  This step is best prepared much earlier in the day or overnight.  Note: this could also have been done in a colander over a bowl or shallow plate.
. Pre-heat oven to 375F /170C /Gas5  and position rack in the center of the oven.
...Breading station:
6. Pour flour into a plastic bag and place patted dried eggplant slices into it.  Prepare separately both the egg mix and breaded crumb into their individual shallow dishes.  
7. Dredge each slice and shake excess off the slices before dipping into the egg mix.  Lastly, coat them into the breaded crumb.  Place onto a large parchment lined baking sheet.
8. Bake the eggplant breaded slices 20 minutes before taking them out to flip them over for their last 20 minute baking until crispy and tender inside.
Assembly for the Melanzane Parmigiana:
9. In a large (~9x12inch/23x30cm ) rectangular pan, ladle enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom.  
10. Layer the nine (or six larger) eggplant slices throughout by slightly over-lapping them.
11. Spread a third of the shredded cheeses.
12. Repeat until all has been assembled.
13. Lower the oven's heat to 350F/160C/Gas4
14. Bake this casserole covered with a sheet of aluminum for the first 40 minutes.  Then uncover for another 10 minutes.  Leave the dish in the oven with the heat shut off for another 10 minute resting period.  
. It will finally be ready to cut into pieces after it's been out of the oven for another 10-15 minute period.  Enjoy.

Many varieties have migrated from different parts of the...
globe and more are created every year.  
Just as many recipes have stemmed from using this wonderful vegetable.
I just can't wait to make and share many more with you.

I'm so thrilled to have finally tried my Nonna's recipe in a new and healthier version.  Hopefully this will also encourage you to take a slight detour from traditional ways.

With this highly succeeded no-fry recipe...
I can now also have dessert with less guilt ;o)  How's that for a compromise?

Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,

Comments ...??? ...or suggestions ... write me :o)
Claudia at:  foodessa [at] gmail [dot] com

Go HERE for more SAVOURY creations.

Please take note on how I bake and cook...
Here’s a 101 of sorts to make sure that there are no disappointments when trying my creations.  
Also...just so you know...feel free to increase the salt and sweet factor since I'm not high on either of them ;o)

. Use DRY cup measurements for...you guessed it...all DRY ingredients.
Anything DRY gets measured by spooning the overfilled ingredient (never shake the cup) and then level off with a flat edged tool.  Exception...Brown sugar should be packed in and leveled.
. Use LIQUID cup measurements for...all LIQUIDS that cannot be leveled like for example butter, yogurt...etc.  Measure the liquids at eye level to avoid overdoing what the recipe truly needs.

OVENS are unfortunately not created equal.  Mine is so old that it has reached many degrees off it's norm.  It's really worth investing a few dollars to test yours with an appropriate oven thermometer.  You'd be surprised how many ovens I've heard about not being where they should have been.  Before you lose any more ingredients and much time preparing a new recipe...run to the store...you'll thank me later. 

A related recipe that may be of interest: