Spectacular Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana

As a public service (and because I was really jonesing for eggplant), the following is my spin on this Italian classic. If you have any questions about this recipe, please comment and leave your email and I'll be happy to respond. Or as the Car Talk Guys like to say, send your questions to me written on the back of a twenty dollar bill. 


Hello Gorgeous

One large eggplant (conventional or organic)
8 oz of fresh mozzarella cheese
1 pint of ricotta cheese
Big bunch of fresh basil 
Big bunch of oregano 
6 large vine-ripened tomatoes 
1 egg
A few cloves of garlic 
Large piece of parmigiano regianno (for grating)
Olive Oil 

Cooking utensils: 
Rounded baking pan (3-4 inches deep and about 6 X 8) 
sharp paring knife
Microplane or a fine grater 
Kingsley Extra Dry North Coast Sparkling Wine (not optional)
Alex Cuba music (not optional) 

Miscellaneous: It helps to have two Persian cats watching as you cook. Dogs may be substituted. 

Sparkling wine from North Coast
Cooking isn't a chore so to me it is critical that you have both great music and wonderful wine to accompany you as you are preparing a meal. In this case, I opened up a wonderful Kingsley Extra Dry North Coast sparkling wine that I got at Total Wine. It was filled with very intense fruit flavor and really lush apple and almost a rich yeasty profile. This California gem from the North Coast is one of the nicest sparkling wines I have enjoyed in years and only $12 This isn't Champagne because only wine from that region in France can be called Champagne. Still a great way to begin preparation. 

On the  music side, I found Alex Cuba on my iPod whose Cuban rhythm is a great way to start any cooking prep. It put me in the mood to channel my inner cook. 

Wash and puree 4 cored vine-ripened tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes with a little olive oil in blender. Or, you can also use a can of pureed tomatoes to save a few minutes. Coat the bottom of the pan with about half the liquid. Reserve the rest of the liquid. Add some fresh oregano to the bottom of the pan. The whole leaves can be added and it will help layer the flavors. 

Put pureed tomatoes on bottom of pan. Add oregano leaves. 
Wash and slice the eggplant into nice thick slices. You should get about 20 good slices. 
Lightly coat the eggplant slices with olive oil and grated garlic. In the meantime, sip some of that Kingley Sparkling Wine and enjoy the aromas around you.

Heat a grill either indoor or outdoor. If you don't have grill, you can use a saute pan and light saute each slice. You won't have the sexy grill marks but no one sees them anyway. Grill all the eggplant pieces. 

Grill or pan saute the eggplant pieces

Put down a layer of eggplant on top of the tomato puree 

Layer the grilled eggplant into the pan
Put the ricotta cheese (about 1 pint) into a bowl. Add one egg and 3 oz of grated paramagiano regiano and mix together with a fork. Take a spoonful (a dollop which is a funny word) and place it on top of each piece of eggplant. Make sure the music is loud enough so that you are either dancing or swaying nicely. Sip the wine. Slice two tomatoes (remove core). Layer the tomatoes on top of the eggplant with the dollop of ricotta mix. 

Add some juicy ripe tomatoes on top of the ricotta mix
Preheat the oven to 350 and make sure you have room on a middle rack in the oven for the pan.  

Wash the basil leaves and place whole leaves on top of the tomatoes. It is important to use the whole leave and not chopped pieces or small dried flakes. Please use real basil leaves not the dried stuffed in a jar. If you can't get the basil- just go out to dinner and skip the recipe. The perfume from the basil is a key ingredient in the layer of flavor. 

On top of the basil, take nice slices of the mozzarella and layer them on top. I just realized that the word ELLA is in the word mozzarELLA. I should be listening to Ella Fitzgerald while preparing this recipe; I think I'll listen to her sing the Cole Porter album later when I eat this. 

TIP: Freeze the mozzarella block for a few minutes before slicing. It will make it easier to cut. Having a really sharp knife helps too!

Add the mozarella slices on top of the basil leaves. 
Add another layer of eggplant, ricotta, tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves. 

Grate some parmagiano regiano on top. You can add kosher salt and pepper too to taste. Remember the paramagiano regiano is pretty salty so you might want to wait to season to taste when you enjoy this meal. 

Using the microplane, grate the parmagiano on top of the dish
Pop this beauty into the oven (350 degrees for 30 minutes). When the timer goes off at 30 minutes, turn it to broil and brown the top for a few minutes until browned. 

Pop in a 350 degree oven about 30 minutes 
Let this beautiful meal cool for about 20 minutes. Slice a nice fat piece on your plate. You can accompany this with a nice mixed arugula salad tossed with a simple mustard vinaigrette or just good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (Salad dressing: teaspoon Dijon, cup olive oil and 1/3 of a cup of good balsamic vinegar blended with a whisk)

Aglianaco Del Vulture from Southern Italy
No vulture was harmed in the making of this wine. 
Here is a wonderful new wine varietal that my colleague Maurizio recommended to me. It is called Aglianico and it is grown in Southern Italy. Like many of my favorite Italian wines it is big, fat and chewy. The grape is very dark and it originally came from Greece. The 2006 I tasted had a pretty balanced tanin level and a lot of dark fruit - cherries is what I tasted. I found these two wines also at Total Wines in Raleigh. They cost about $14 each. 

Listen to this sizzle for about 20 minutes before plating
If its just two eating this, I suggest eating half and freezing the rest. This holds up wonderfully in the freezer and makes an easy dinner some night. 

One other note: There is no right way to make this recipe and I guarantee you that I improvise a little each time. So don't get hung up on if its exactly perfect- add a little more or less cheese, add some zuchini or roasted red pepper in addition to the eggplant or listen to Bruce Springsteen instead of Alex Cuba if you live in Westfield, New Jersey. The point is that like jazz, cooking should be filled with riffs and improvisations so have fun.  

If you are curious where an eggplant got it's name, details are available here. The short version is that some eggplants are white and literally look like eggs growing as plants. 

Enjoy the meal, the music and the moment. I'm so tempted to make a bad pun like cheese the Moment. I think I'll resist. 

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