Eggplant parmesan is my go-to staple at any neighborhood Italian restaurant, and I’m never disappointed. Covered with oozing cheese and sauce, fried eggplant is down-right delicious. (Of course, what wouldn’t be covered with cheese and sauce?) I’m also a fan of eggplant rolatini, which is usually long slices of eggplant, rolled around herb-seasoned ricotta cheese, and topped with sauce and cheese. Served in a gratin dish with bread for dipping, this is a fabulous appetizer.
On a recent visit to CostCo, I spied these adorable baby eggplants. I snatched them up and a ball of fresh mozzarella and created this home-version of eggplant parmesan. My cherry tomato plant has been producing like mad, so I decided to make a quick “baked” tomato sauce with them–plus some garlic for extra flavor. The result was absolutely wonderful.
First, I sliced the baby eggplants lengthwise, then sprinkled both sides of the slices with salt to release some of the moisture. I got 5 slices per eggplant. I let them sit on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, I sliced the cherry tomatoes in half and placed in a baking dish. I threw in 3 garlic cloves, a splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s important to leave the skins on the garlic so that the garlic can roast and become oh-so-silky-tender. Make sure you rinse them in their skins first! Then slice off one end of each. Mix it all up, pop in the oven, and remove after all of the wonderful tomato juices coat the bottom and the tomatoes are smashed.
When the tomatoes are starting to look smashed and the garlic is starting to brown, pop the eggplant slices in the oven. Once the eggplants starts to turn brown, pull from the oven and allow to cool. Slice the mozzarella into super-thin slices. (This can be cumbersome with fresh mozzarella… I recommend cutting with the plastic wrap still on the mozzarella ball since this keeps the cheese intact while cutting.)
Spoon the cooked tomatoes into a food processor and pop the roasted garlic cloves in. Throw away the garlic skins. Drizzle a little olive oil in plus a few sundried tomatoes (if you have them.) Salt and pepper to taste and hit puree. You should end up with about a cup of sauce.
Now start the fun part–stacking! Coat the bottom of the baking dish (the same one you cooked the tomatoes in) with some sauce, an eggplant slice, a little more sauce, a little mozzarella, another eggplant slice, sauce, mozz, and keep repeating until the whole baby eggplant is complete. The idea is that you are recreating the cutie pie baby eggplant while adding the ooey gooey yummy mozz and sauce. Once complete you will have 4 baby eggplant stacks. Pop the baking dish in the oven until bubbly, serve topped with a fresh basil leaf on each stack. Enjoy!
Baby eggplant, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic
4 baby eggplants
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
2 cups cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
3 cloves of garlic IN THEIR SKINS
salt & pepper
red chili pepper flakes (optional)
4 sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
4 fresh basil leaves (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice each baby eggplant lengthwise into 5 slices. Lay eggplant slices out on a parchment-lined sheet pan, sprinkle both sides with salt, and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. The salt is to draw out some of the moisture. While eggplant is “sweating,” slice cherry tomatoes in half. Place sliced tomatoes and 3 cloves of garlic (in their skins) into a baking dish. It’s important to keep the garlic in their skins so that the garlic can roast and not burn. Drizzle with olive oil and salt & pepper to taste. Place tomatoes and garlic in the oven. Once the tomatoes have baked for 20 minutes, add the eggplant slices to the oven.
Watch the tomatoes and eggplant. Once the eggplant has browned, remove from oven. Allow to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. The tomatoes will take a total of 40-60 minutes (including the 20 minutes in the step above), depending on their size. You want to bake them until they are really soft and looking smashed and the garlic skins are brown. Once cooked, add the tomatoes to a food processor and add the garlic (slide the roasted cloves out of their skins and discard the skins). Puree until smooth. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, chili pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and puree again.
Begin layering. Coat the bottom of the pan with the sauce, add an eggplant slice, a little more sauce, some mozzarella cheese, an eggplant slice, a little more sauce, some mozzarella, etc. until you have rebuilt the baby eggplant. You should have four stacks. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and slightly browned on top. Top with the basil leaves and serve. Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main.