One of my favorite things to make is my tomato sauce. It's very easy, but takes a few hours for all the ingredients to meld together. Once it's complete it is extremely satisfying. I am always trying to think of dishes I can incorporate the sauce into. Eggplant Parmesan came to mind.
I'd actually never eaten Eggplant Parmesan before this, but was craving something new. I looked online to see if there were any restaurants near by that had the dish and couldn't find one. So I took it upon myself to make it at home and finally check the dish off my bucket list. Many of the recipes I found varied in ingredients and steps. The result here is a hybrid of a few of these, and it's everything I wanted it to be:
Cheesy and comforting.
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves sliced
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional, but highly recommend adding)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup of chicken broth
1 parmesan rind (go to local cheese counter and ask if they have any or cut rind off parmesan yourself)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
fresh ground pepper
3 medium eggplants, peeled, sliced lengthwise ½–¾ inch thick
3 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups finely grated Parmesan, divided
1½ cups all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, beaten to blend
1⅓ cups olive oil
6 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, grated (about 1⅓ cups)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
basil leaves for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, cook until softened. Add the tomatoes, breaking with your hands, and their juices. Add anchovies (if using), red pepper flakes, red wine, chicken broth, and parmesan rind. Bring the sauce to a boil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and turn the heat to medium low. Cover almost completely with a lid and gently simmer for at least 1 hour. (If you decide to let simmer longer than an hour and the sauce becomes at all drying, add splashes of chicken broth every hour or so.) Uncover the sauce and stir in the tomato paste, barely cover again, and simmer for one more hour. Once sauce is complete remove parmesan rind.
Lightly season eggplant slices all over with salt; place in a single layer on several sheets of paper towels and weigh down with a heavy pot. Let eggplant sit until it has released excess liquid, 45–60 minutes. This step gives the eggplant a creamy texture when baked.
While eggplant is releasing its liquid, pulse panko, oregano, pepper, and ¾ cup Parmesan in a food processor until very finely ground. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
Preheat oven to 350°. Place flour in another bowl and eggs in a third bowl. Working one at a time, dredge eggplant slices in flour, then dip in egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat in breadcrumbs, packing all around, then shaking off excess. Place on wire racks.
Heat ⅔ cup oil in a heavy bottom skillet, over medium-high. Cook as many eggplant slices that will fit in pan, turning once, until deep golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and immediately press with more paper towel to absorb oil. Repeat with remaining slices, adding remaining ⅔ cup oil. Let cool. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Toss low-moisture mozzarella and remaining ¾ cup Parmesan in a medium bowl. Ladle some sauce over the bottom of a 13x9" baking pan; top with a layer of eggplant slices. Drizzle more sauce over eggplants and sprinkle with one-third of cheese mixture. Add another layer of eggplant, followed by more sauce and half of remaining cheese mixture. Repeat layers with remaining slices, sauce, and cheese mixture. Cover with foil and bake on a rimmed baking sheet until eggplant is custard-like, 45–60 minutes.
Remove from oven and arrange fresh mozzarella over eggplant. Increase oven temperature to 425° and bake, uncovered, until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, 15–20 minutes longer. Let rest 30 minutes. Top with basil leaves just before slicing.