Neapolitan Roasted Eggplant Casserole, a lighter dish for summer


Neapolitan Roasted Eggplant Casserole, a lighter dish for summer 

With summer coming on, eggplants will be plentiful. I love eggplant parmesan (Melanzane alla Parmigiana), but it’s a heavy dish, almost too heavy for summer. Here’s a lighter way, also Southern Italian, of making an eggplant casserole without all the heavy cheese and breading. 

As wonderful as eggplant can be, it has several unpleasant characteristics to overcome. The bitterness from traces of nicotine-like alkaloids (eggplant is related to tobacco, after all) needs to be salted out or roasted out. Eggplant also requires proper cooking to not be rubbery or spongy or have tough skin. 

To make the casserole you will first need to make (or buy) a tomato sauce (sometimes confusingly called “Marinara” – sailor’s sauce), There is a recipe in my blog posting from 6/12/23, which is just after this post. 

1 batch red tomato (“marinara”) sauce

1 large or 2 medium-large eggplants

3 tablespoons salt for the soaking water

3 eggs

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt for seasoning the flour

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Olive oil plus sunflower or other vegetable oil for frying

6 tablespoons coarsely grated parmesan cheese

Large sprig of fresh basil, optional 

Cut off stem end and the very bottom of the eggplant. With a vegetable peeler, peel off a narrow strip of skin from top to bottom on four sides of the eggplant. Slice eggplant crosswise 3/8-inch thick. In a large bowl dissolve the 3 tablespoons salt and about three quarts of water. Immerse the eggplant slices, mix them around occasionally, and soak them for 30 minutes or more to get out the bitter juices. 

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. 

Drain the soaked eggplant slices. Pat off excess moisture with paper towels. Dust eggplant lightly, a few at a time, with the seasoned flour. Tap them to shake off excess flour and dip them on both sides in the egg, shake off the excess egg then dust them lightly again with the flour. 

When all slices are prepared, heat a few tablespoons of each oil together in a large frying pan. Add a layer of eggplant slices, and turn them often with a spatula until light golden brown on each side. Remove to paper towel to drain excess oil. Add a little more of the oils to the pan if needed and continue to fry the rest of the eggplant and drain it as before. 

In an attractive shallow casserole dish, arrange a layer of the fried eggplant. Top lightly with tomato sauce and sprinkle lightly with grated parmesan. Do this again for a second layer, and a third layer if eggplant remains. Sprinkle any remaining parmesan over the top. If desired, place a sprig of basil on the center. The casserole can be baked now or stored, refrigerated, to bake later. 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Bake on the upper shelf of the oven until bubbling on the edges and the cheese on the top browns somewhat, 25-30 minutes. Turn the dish once or twice during the baking. 

Serve hot with a salad and crusty bread.

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