Dish Spotlight: Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan, or parmigiana di melanzane in Italian, is a delicious layering of eggplant, cheese and tomato sauce. The rich flavors blend perfectly together to create a lasagna-like dish. Some variations of parmigiana dishes include chicken or veal parmesan, but eggplant has always been a favorite.

Even though some believe that the name “parmigiana” suggests it was created in the city of Parma in northern Italy, eggplants were a staple in Southern Italian cuisine. Others believe the name stems from the variation of cheese that is sometimes included in the dish. Wherever the recipe originated, Americans have come to love the delectable eggplant dish.

The beautiful deep jewel-tone vegetable requires some special preparation, but don’t let that deter you from trying it. Be sure to leave the beautiful skin on, as this is where all the nutrients are. After slicing the eggplant, sprinkle it with salt and allow it to sit for 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry. This will take out any bitterness, which is especially important in larger eggplants. While the eggplant is traditionally fried prior to building the dish, you can also bake the eggplant slices. This method offers a lighter alternative that yields an equally delicious result.  You can choose to bread or batter the eggplant slices, or leave them bare.

After precooking the eggplant, this casserole dish is baked in the oven. Layer the sauce, cheese and fresh basil between the eggplant slices in portions of your liking. You can serve the dish over pasta, or alone with a fresh salad and crunchy bread. Although this hearty casserole-style dish is great for winter, it can be freshened up for a lighter summer version as well. This dish may be found at the finest Italian restaurants, but it can also be easily made in your own home. Try a classic eggplant parmesan recipe that stays true to its Italian roots.

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