Think of Eggplant Parmigiana as a pasta-less vegetarian Lasagna, made with thin slices of eggplant instead of pasta, layered with tomato sauce, fresh basil and plenty of molten cheese. Called Parmigiana di Melanzane in Italian and known as Eggplant Parmesan in the US, it’s a low-carb dream come true!
To call this outrageously good would be the understatement of the year. This is epic vegetarian comfort food, at its best!
A southern Italian classic, this is one of those incredible vegetarian dishes that’s so good, even card-carrying carnivores won’t pause for a moment to wonder, “Where’s the meat??” This is comfort food for everyone.
It oozes with cheesy goodness – molten mozzarella on top and the savoury hum of parmesan within. It’s slick and bright with fresh tomato sauce. It’s dotted with addictive pops of fresh basil leaves like a great margherita pizza. And with every bite, you get a mouthful of the juicy, soft eggplant layers.
There are a few steps involved in making this dish. But as one of the greatest vegetarian-low-carb dishes imaginable, it is worth every second!
The three parts of Eggplant Parmigiana
Here are the three parts of Eggplant Parmigiana:
Thin slices of eggplant – I opt to bake rather than the traditional method of deep frying in copious amounts of oil. As delicious as fried eggplant is, I guarantee you won’t miss the oil (but your hips will thank you for it!);
Tomato sauce (sugo) – A semi-quick one that we simmer for 30 minutes to develop flavour, cook out the tomato and thicken it so it’s not watery; and
Fresh basil and cheese – For the layers.
What you need to make Eggplant Parmigiana
1. Eggplant slices
First up, here’s all you need for the eggplant slices:
Eggplants / aubergines – We need 4 to 5 decent-sized eggplants for this recipe. 1.8kg (3.6lb) in total. This sounds like a lot, but we need them! Eggplant shrinks as it cooks, and we need enough to cover 3 layers of a full-size casserole dish. Also, the eggplant is sliced about 3 times thicker than it is for Greek Moussaka, so we need more; and
Olive oil – For brushing before we bake them. Oil helps the slices cook and stay moist.
2. Tomato sauce (“sugo”)
The sauce for Eggplant Parmigiana is a classic Italian tomato sugo (“sauce” in Italian). It’s thicker than what you’d make for pasta, because if it’s too thin the water tends to bleed out from the sauce as the Eggplant Parmigiana cooks, resulting in a “split” sauce. Also, the Eggplant Parmigiana will be too sloppy and impossible to serve in (reasonably!) neat slices.
Here’s what you need:
Tomato passata – Pureed, strained pure tomatoes, sometimes labelled “tomato puree” in the US (here’s a photo of Mutti tomato passata sold at Walmart). It’s readily available in Australian supermarkets nowadays, alongside pasta sauces. Passata is excellent for making thick, smooth sauces. More on tomato passata here;
Crushed or finely diced tomato – We don’t want a perfectly smooth sugo, we also want some texture and chunkiness, hence some finely chopped tomato as well. The better the quality of your canned tomato, the better your sauce! Cheap canned tomato tends to be sour and not really taste of what it should, ie. tomato!
Oregano – Or basil will work a treat here;
Garlic – Lots of it! Garlic and tomato go together like Adam and Eve; and
Sugar – Just a touch, to bring out the natural sweetness of the tomato and balance the sourness. If you have the time to simmer the tomato sauce and simmer it for 1 1/2 hours you can skip the sugar.
3. Cheese and basil for layers
For the layers, we use parmesan and basil sandwiched between the eggplant layers. Finally we use mozzarella for sprinkling on top:
Parmesan – It’s all in a name: Parmesan is the essential flavouring and seasoning for Eggplant Parmigiana! We finely grate it and sprinkle on each layer so its cheesy, savoury taste permeates every bite;
Mozzarella – I did say right upfront there’s plenty of molten cheesy goodness in Eggplant Parmigiana! Hey, we can afford the calories here, remember, this is a low-carb dish!
Fresh basil – Nothing goes better with tomatoes than basil! We scatter leaves on each and every layer as well as for garnishing the finished dish.
How to make Eggplant Parmigiana
Steps: Bake eggplant slices → Make Sauce → Assemble and bake!
1. Baked eggplant Slices
Eggplant slices: Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 8mm / ⅓” thick slices. Place on to three lined trays and brush each side of every slice with olive oil; then
Bake in a 220°C (430°F) oven for 35 to 40 minutes until the eggplant is lightly browned.
No salt? That’s right, no salt. You often see recipes calling for salt sprinkled on the raw eggplant to draw water out, which tenderises the flesh and makes the eggplant absorb less oil when cooking. Common wisdom also claims that salt removes the bitter taste in eggplants. However the reality is modern eggplants have had any bitterness bred out of them so it’s not a necessary step today.
We do not need to salt the eggplant for Eggplant Parmigiana because we found that it makes the dish too salty once you add the parmesan (even after patting the moisture off) and already-seasoned tomato sauce. Also for this dish, the tomato sauce makes the eggplant flesh beautifully tender and juicy. So, no salt!
2. Tomato sauce (“sugo”)
Sauté onion and garlic with the oil, then add everything else (tomato passata, crushed tomato, oregano or basil, salt and pepper); and
Simmer for 30 minutes until it reduces into a fairly thick sauce, as pictured below. You should be able to draw a path along the base of the pot that remains visible for a few seconds.
The sauce needs to be quite thick otherwise you’ll end up with a sloppy Eggplant Parmigiana with a “split”-looking sauce, that can’t be neatly sliced.
3. Assembling and baking Eggplant Parmigiana
Smear some tomato sauce on the base of a baking dish. This stops the first layer of eggplant from sliding around;
Eggplant layer: Top with a layer of eggplant, using 1/3 of the eggplant;
Tomato sauce: Spread eggplant with 1/3 of the tomato sauce;
Olive oil: Drizzle with a little olive oil;
Basil: Scatter with 1/3 of the basil leaves;
Parmesan: Sprinkle with 1/3 of the parmesan;
Repeat: Repeat layering twice more for a total of three eggplant layers. With the top-most layer, (a) add everything except the basil, which we’ll save it for fresh garnish later; (b) sprinkle over all the mozzarella for our melted cheesy topping!;
Bake for 25 minutes in a 180°C (350°F) oven until the mozzarella is bubbly and golden, and the smells wafting out of your oven are knee-bucklingly good!
Scatter with the remaining fresh basil leaves just before serving.
Let the Eggplant Parmigiana rest for 5 to 10 minute before cutting to serve. This gives a chance for it to both cool and also set a little, which will help ensure you can cut neat(-ish) slices, like so:
Meat-free food this good could even convert me into a vegetarian …
OK, I’m maybe exaggerating there! Just a throwaway line that sounds good so I can convince you to make this! 😂 Everybody knows that I’m a sucker for roasts. I could never give up meat!!! – Nagi x
PS. The Eggplant Parmigiana is pictured above with a Rocket and Parmesan Salad, minus the parmesan because I figure I’ve already used enough in the dish! (That’s Arugula Salad, to those of you in the States.) Any big, green leafy salad will work a treat here. See here for all my side salads and vegetables.
Watch how to make it
Eggplant Parmigiana (Parmigiana di Melanzane)
Baked Eggplant Slices:
- 1.8kg / 2.6lb large eggplants (aubergines) – about 5 , sliced lengthways 8mm (1/3")-thick (skin on, Note 1)
- 1/4 cup olive oil (for brushing)
- 1 2/3 cups parmesan , finely grated
- 2 cups basil leaves (loosely packed), stalks reserved
- 1 1/2 cups mozzarella , shredded (for topping) (Note 2)
Sugo (tomato sauce):
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion , finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 600ml / 20oz tomato passata (Note 3)
- 400g/ 14oz canned tomatoes , crushed or finely chopped (Note 4)
- 1 1/2 tsp white sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp fresh oregano , finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried oregano, or 1 sprig fresh basil)
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Preheat oven to 220°C / 430°F (200°C fan).
- Line three trays: Line three large trays with baking / parchment paper.
- Brush eggplant with oil: Brush eggplant slices on each side with oil.
- Bake 35 minutes: Arrange eggplant in a single layer on the trays and bake for about 35 – 45 mins or until browning and tender, turning the eggplant halfway. I put the trays on the top shelf, in the middle, then I put one tray on the floor of the oven. As each tray finishes, I remove the tray and move the others up.
- Cool: Remove from oven, leave on trays to cool.
Tomato sauce (sugo):
- Sauté onions and garlic: Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic for 3 minutes until softened and just about to colour on the edges.
- Add remaining ingredients: Pour in the passata , canned tomatoes, water, oregano and sugar. Stir and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer 30 minutes: Simmer uncovered for about 30 – 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened, adding the basil stalks halfway through cooking (so they don’t lose their flavour).
- The final consistency should be slightly thicker than a pasta sauce so it’s spreadable and not leaching liquid, but not too pasty either. Add extra water a little at a time if required during cooking if it gets too thick. Remove the basil stalks and discard.
- Season: Stir in salt and pepper. (Remember, we get salt from the parmesan too, so no need to go overboard here)
Assembling and baking:
- Reduce oven to 180°C / 350°F (160°C fan).
- Smear a little tomato sauce in the bottom of baking dish, 23 x 33cm / 9 x 13" (or thereabouts).
- Layer 1: Lay one third of the eggplant so it covers the base (some overlap is OK when layering eggplant). Spread 1/3 of the remaining sugo over eggplant. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the parmesan, and 1/3 of basil leaves.
- Layer 2: Repeat another 1/3 each of eggplant, tomato sauce, olive oil, basil and parmesan.
- Layer 3 (top layer): Repeat again with remaining eggplant, tomato sauce and some olive oil. Do not put basil on top layer (we will garnish after baking). Scatter with remaining parmesan, then all the mozzarella.
- Bake for 25 mins until bubbling and golden.
- Rest: Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes (easier to slice neatly). Scatter over remaining fresh basil leaves. Cut like lasagna and serve! (Optional: sprinkle with extra parmesan).
More eggplant excellence
Life of Dozer
Dozer in his usual position while I’m shooting a recipe video….