Holy Smokes. This Eggplant Parm is friggin amazing. I was sitting at the kitchen counter back home in NJ, hunched over a Tupperware container holding what might as well have been hidden treasure. I ate quickly, stealing furtive glances at the door. I'm a thief. This eggplant parm wasn't meant for me.
My big brother T had come home as well to help me plan my bridal shower menu, and well, there are a few things that are a given whenever we go home. 1) My mom makes us drink healing potions of Chinese herbal teas and soups (that's for another post), 2) We start our diet of a bagel a day, and 3) Our Italian childhood friends bring us leftovers from our #1 most requested dish – homemade Eggplant Parmigiana.
It sounds funny now that I write about it, but yes, it's true, my brother and I each have our own eggplant parm suppliers. Mine is my girl, Michele, who I've known since the first grade, whose mom was my CCD teacher, and who recently stood next to me as my maid of honor. My brother's eggplant parm connect is Corinne, who he's known since the second grade, whose house he goes to every Christmas for their massive dessert spread featuring about a dozen different pies and cakes, and who will be a bridesmaid at his wedding next October. I know, the parallels are frightening.
In any case, it happened that my brother left behind his container of Corinne's eggplant parm. Big mistake bro. Huge. At the Im household, ya snooze, ya lose. Especially when it comes to an unguarded eggplant parm.
So I dug in. And wow. I mean really. WOW. Sorry Shell, I love you and all, and no disrespect, but Corinne's square of eggplant parm magic was just that. Magical. It was like the pinnacle of eggplant parm tastiness. Everything I wanted in the dish. Creamy, cheesy, savory, rich, comforting, homey perfection. (Shell: for the record, please don't stop bringing me your eggplant parm. I will always eat it with gusto).
In any case, I was so moved by the explosion of tastiness in my mouth that I had to email Corinne for the recipe and make up for all these years I had been missing out on it.
I was dying to find out more about this magical eggplant parm of my dreams. Was it an old family recipe? Was it something she made all the time or just special occasions? Does it take a long time to make? What kind of mozzarella did she use?! It was astoundingly creamy and seemed to just melt into almost a sauce. I had so many questions. Did she use the big round-bottomed Italian eggplant, or the regular long ones? Did she "sweat" her eggplant before breading? Ok, clearly I was obsessed.
To my utter delight, Corinne was happy to share her family recipe! As it turns out, there are no crazy secrets to it. Except maybe lots of love and some time to devote to it. Interestingly, she says that between her mom, her sisters and herself, they all make it a little bit different. Corinne prefers thin slices of eggplant (as do I), while her sister prefers thicker slices. Corinne likes to make it in a square pan, her mom likes using a round one. Mom usually makes it for all holidays, but she likes it every now and again as a good comfort meal.
I gave the recipe a go – to be honest, it didn't come out as good as Corinne's, but I'm hoping I'll get better with practice. Here's what I learned:
1. Apple-bottom eggplant works best because the bigger bottoms are good for the bottom layers.
2. No need to "sweat" the eggplant, Corinne doesn't do it, nor does her mama.
3. Slice the eggplant thin (a bit under ¼" thick)
4. Use whole milk mozzarella for the creamy results you'll want -- no one said this was a healthy dish! A note on the mozz: Corinne recommended the brand Polly-O for best results. It's a common brand on the East coast, but I haven't been able to find it in SF. She warned against using Sorrento, saying that for some reason, it doesn't work as well.
5. Barilla Three Cheese Tomato Sauce is recommended for the sauce. A great choice if you don't have time to make your own tomato sauce from scratch.
6. Make sure oil is hot in skillet before putting eggplant in -- they'll get too soggy if it's not hot enough. To test, drop a piece of breading in the oil. If it starts to bubble right away, the oil is ready.
7. Complete layers. I realized my eggplant parm didn't look quite right in the end because of the way I layered everything. Next time, instead of neatly stacking everything like I did, I'm going to try layering the pieces of eggplant overlapping one another to create whole uninterrupted layers.
8. Slice mozzarella rather than shredding to safe time.
This Eggplant Parm of my dreams is a bit time-intensive, and it's not the healthiest dish, but mamma mia, is it good. Grazie mille to Corinne and the Testaverde family for sharing their prized family recipe. And Big Brother T, you better guard your Tupperwares now that I know what's up.
Eggplant Parm of My Dreams
Grazie mille to Corinne and the Testaverde family for sharing their prized family recipe. This is like the pinnacle of eggplant parm tastiness. Everything one could want in the dish -- creamy, cheesy, savory, rich, comforting, homey perfection.
Prep Time: 30-40 minutes (it takes awhile to fry up all the eggplant)
1 apple-bottom eggplant – make sure it's firm
16 oz. package whole milk mozzarella (Recommended brands: Polly-O, don't use Sorrento – for some reason it doesn't work as well)
1 ½ cups Italian flavored bread crumbs (Recommended brand: Progresso)
¼ cup milk
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for frying
Tomato Sauce (Recommended brand: Barilla Three Cheese)
1. Heat oil in a large skillet, enough so that you have a good inch to fry in
2. Remove skin from eggplant, cut into 1/8 inch slices
3. Dip eggplant into egg & milk mixture
4. Coat both sides of eggplant in breadcrumb
5. Make sure oil is hot in skillet before putting eggplant in (they'll get too soggy if it's not hot enough)
6. Preheat Oven to 350°
7. Place breaded eggplant into skillet and brown on both sides
8. While eggplant is cooking, cut mozzarella into thin slices as well
9. Remove eggplant from skillet once fully browned, place on paper towels to soak up some of the excess oil
10. Spoon a layer of sauce into bottom of baking dish
11. Place a layer of browned eggplant on top of sauce layer, overlapping the slices to create one uninterrupted layer of eggplant.
12. Spoon another layer of sauce (not too much) on-top of eggplant
13. Place a layer of the sliced mozzarella on top of sauce
14. Repeat; eggplant, sauce, mozzarella layers ending on top with mozzarella
15. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in oven for approx 20–30 mins, until cheese is melted
16. Eat and enjoy the gooey deliciousness!