Makes:4 to 6 servings
The southern Italian region of Campania is known for its exceptional buffalo milk mozzarella and the many recipes the cheese inspires, such as melanzane alla parmigiana, or eggplant Parmesan. In our version, we bread the eggplant in panko for extra crunch, then arrange it over a bed of our Basic Tomato Sauce and layer it with fresh basil leaves and mozzarella.
What to buy: Panko is coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs, available in many grocery stores.
We used Japanese eggplant in this recipe because of its thin skin and sweet, delicate flavor. If this or any other smaller eggplant isn’t available, the more common globe eggplant will work; just be sure to then use a larger baking dish.
Game plan: Because of the variation in eggplant size, you may have to adjust the number of slices to fill the dish. The key is to have the same number of eggplant slices as mozzarella slices and basil leaves. When choosing your eggplants, shoot for about a pound total. That should be plenty for four people.
24 (1/2-inch-thick) slices Japanese eggplant (from about 2 medium eggplants)
Position a rack in middle of the oven and heat the broiler to low. Place the eggplant slices in a colander set in the sink or over a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt, toss to combine, and set aside to drain for about 5 minutes.
Place the flour in a wide, shallow dish and season generously with salt and pepper. Combine the eggs and milk in another shallow dish and set aside; mix the panko and cheese together in a third shallow dish.
Remove the eggplant slices from the colander and pat dry with paper towels. Bread the eggplant by coating a few slices in the flour mixture. Shake off any excess flour, dip the slices into the egg mixture, and press them into the panko mixture; be sure to coat the slices thoroughly at each step. Set the breaded eggplant on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining slices.
Line another baking sheet with paper towels and set a wire rack over the towels; set aside. Fill a large, straight-sided skillet or frying pan with 1 inch of the olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350°F on a deep-fat thermometer (the oil should be shimmering but not smoking). Add about a third of the eggplant slices and fry on one side until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip and fry the other side for another 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to the wire rack and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Pour the warmed tomato sauce over the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Shingle 1 eggplant slice, 1 basil leaf, and 1 mozzarella slice over the tomato sauce, repeating until all of the ingredients are arranged in the baking dish.
Place in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and speckled with gold, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately with extra tomato sauce on the side.
Beverage pairing:Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo, Italy. Greco di Tufo is a grape found in southern Italy, and it produces wines that remarkably seem to be both rich and lean. In this case the roundness and medium body of the wine will seem proportionate with the eggplant and cheese, while its acidity and minerality will be a refreshing contrast.