Save time, mess, and even calories. And it’ll taste better!

I thought I didn't really like eggplant parmesan. I spent a lifetime thinking maybe I was just indifferent to eggplant in general. Or not understanding why one would put eggplant where chicken or veal belong. Wondering how a dish based on a vegetable could always be so greasy and leaden. I always hated how much time and energy seemed to be put into breading and frying the cutlets to get them crispy, only to blanket them in sauce, making them soggy, and then covering in an exoskeleton of melted cheese. And for a dish that is a calorie bomb, necessitating it being a rare and occasional indulgence, it never really satisfied.

Then I went to visit a friend in Italy, and she made eggplant parmesan for a dinner party, and it was one of the most delicious, light, succulent, perfect casseroles I had ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Not oily or heavy in the least, but rather a perfect marriage of silky eggplant and rich tomato sauce, enhanced with just enough cheese to flavor but not overwhelm. 

Turns out, the disconnect between me and eggplant parm was a fundamental difference between the dish I grew up on and the one most commonly made in Italy.

Eggplant Parmesan
Credit: Getty / rudisill

The secret to great eggplant parmesan

There is one key element, as I have now learned, to making great eggplant parm. And that is to eliminate entirely the breading step of the recipe you are most likely in possession of. Adding the breading means the eggplant slices spend too much time in the oil during browning and provide extra places for that oil to get sucked up. This adds to both the bulk and heaviness of the dish and the overall perception of greasiness.

Here's what to do instead: Peel and slice your eggplant, salt to draw out excess water and temper the bitterness, pat dry once the draining process is complete, and then do not bread but just fry enough to get some golden-brown color on the slices.

For the salting and draining, I added a non-Italian step picked up from watching America's Test Kitchen: Instead of draining the salted eggplant slices in a colander, I salted and layered them between paper towels and microwaved for 8 minutes. This not only pulls the water out faster and wicks it away into the toweling, but it also par-cooks and heats the slices, meaning they need less time in the oil to brown, and prevents them from absorbing oil. 

All of this makes it an easier, faster and more delicious dish, but also, makes it healthier so that you can have it in semi-regular rotation and not just as a special occasion treat.

Two ingredient swaps to make your eggplant parmesan even more Italian

In the mood to really make it super Italian? Just make two other simple ingredient swaps. 

The sauce: First off, instead of the typical marinara sauce, find a bottle, can, or carton of Italian passata, or uncooked tomato puree that's been strained of seeds and skin. It is thicker and richer than American tomato sauce, so be sure to look for an Italian brand in the tomato aisle, like Mutti, or check the back of the package for the DOP designation which will ensure the contents are Italian tomatoes from verified producers. All it needs is some salt and pepper, maybe some red pepper flakes if you are feeling fancy. Not having all the extra ingredients that are in marinara allows the marriage of eggplant and tomato to lead the way and the resulting flavor is fresher and more delicious. 

The cheese: Secondly, swap out the shredded mozzarella, if your recipe calls for that. Instead, cut fresh mozzarella into cubes, and dot it around between layers and on top instead of a thick blanket. The cheese will provide little milky pockets of freshness that enhance the eggplant and tomato all the more!

Eggplant parmesan recipes to use

Don't have a favorite eggplant parm recipe in your files? Check out these recipes for inspiration: