So I love...LOVE...LOVE Italian food. But much of it is really food that is meant to be eaten for celebrations or, in other words, from time to time or special occasions. There are ways to healthify these delicious dishes, however. This recipe doesn't use any frying, and incorporates some fresh veggies (or fungi and fruit, I guess).
- 1 medium to large Italian eggplant, peeled, then sliced in rounds about 1/4 inch thick (TIP: get rid of the end pieces - you want to see seeds in all the rounds because this is the tender part)
- 3/4 cup unflavored PANKO breadcrumbs (click here for a 75 cent off coupon)
- 2 Tbs. Italian seasoning
- Kosher salt
- 1 to 2 eggs beaten (or 1/4 cup egg beaters)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 jar of Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian Sauce (or your favorite flavor)
- 4 to 6 oz mozzarella cheese (Precious or Kraft taste best)
- 2-3 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese**
- 1 roma tomato, diced
- 1/2 cup chopped crimini a.k.a. "baby bella" mushrooms (or white, if you prefer)
- 1 tbs butter or olive oil
- cooking spray
- FRESH Basil (8-10 large leafs, cut on a chiffonade)
- sautee pan
- 9x12 rectangular pan (or smaller if you can fit all the eggplant rounds)
- wooden spoon
- 2 shallow bowls (one for panko and one for the egg)
- 1 quart size zip-top baggie
- a sharp knife (duh, but you'd be surprised!)
- vegetable peeler (duh, redux)
- cookie pan lined with foil or parchment paper
- paper towels or clean flour-sack (ie lint free) towels
The Pre-Steps (Mise en place/Everything in Place)
- Peel and slice the eggplant. Sprinkle both sides lightly with Kosher salt and place in the colander in the sink. This process is called "sweating" the eggplant. It draws the excess moisture out of the eggplant, reducing the bitterness, and allowing for a crispy "oven-fried" eggplant. Walk away for 2-3 hours. Come back and rinse your eggplant then thoroughly dry them with the paper towels or flour sack towels.
- Season your breadcrumbs with 1/2 tsp. of salt and all the Italian herbs. Place in one of the shallow bowls.
- Beat your egg/s with a little water, and place in one of the shallow bowls.
- Put the flour in the zip-top baggie.
- Spray the lined cookie sheet with cooking spray.
- Preheat your oven to 375º.
Ok, Let's COOK!
- Put the eggplant in the bag with the flour and *shake shake shake* til they're all evenly coated.
- Working with one "wet hand" and one "dry hand", gently dip each round into the egg batter, then coat each side with Panko bread crumbs and place on your cookie sheet. Lightly spray the top of the coated rounds with cooking spray and bake for 8 minutes. Flip them over, and cook for another 8 minutes.
- While the eggplant is baking, heat oil/butter in your sautee pan and add your mushrooms and a pinch of kosher salt. When the mushrooms have softened, toss in the diced tomato and cook til heated through. (I love this part, it smells soooooo good)
- Pour some of the jarred sauce into the bottom of your pan, and if necessary, thin with 1 to 2 Tbs. water*, then mix in the mushrooms and the tomatoes, and a sprinkle of the Parmesan.
- Lay out the rounds of the eggplant on top of the sauce, then spoon more sauce on top of each slice of eggplant. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, the fresh basil, and either lay very thin slices or sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the entire pan of eggplant.
- COVER with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes at 375º.
- Dish up and devour while hot and gooey.
*I found that the sauce was a LITTLE thick, and definitely needed thinning so that the eggplant would soak up all the flavors
**Please please please don't use the green can of shelf-stable Parmesan; invest $3.99 for an 8 oz container of FRESH grated Parmesan from the refrigerated pasta section - it will last a long time and reduce the amount of salt you have to add to your food because of the natural flavor of the cheese.
***You could also bread and bake zucchini or yellow long-neck squash with this method, but it still needs to be sweated like the eggplant though probably not as long (30 minutes to an hour). I would also cut it in half, then into 3 inch long, 1/4 inch thick strips, and I would NOT peel it.