This recipe, like the Fettuccine Alfredo, was one of the first Italian meals I had from Philip's family and fell in love with. I still remember the first night I had it. I was dating Philip and visiting his family over break. I was seated at the table closest to the family room. I had on my blush pink cropped sweater. (Am I the only one on whom food makes such an impression?) I most certainly had seconds, if not thirds and fourths. I am fairly certain it was the first recipe I requested from Mom Barrows. I don't know what it is about it. It's not mind-blowing. It's actually fairly humble and simple. But, it's delicious. It's complete comfort food for me.
This recipe proved incredibly difficult to write up, however. That's because, like many Italian recipes I've been introduced to through Philip's family, there is much left unspecific and undefined. A beloved sponge cake recipe calls for "two heaping cups of flour." My first time baking it went like this: "Wait, what? You mean, I don't simply lack the precision of a weight measurement, but I'm not given even simple cups? Should I heap it so that the flour threatens to topple over? Or is it just supposed to mound??? MY CAKE IS GOING TO BE A DISASTER!!!!"
This recipe is named for Philip's Nonna because, as with several other family recipes, she tinkered with and improved it. The beer, for one, is her addition. In honor of the Italian spirit, feel free to adjust it further to your own tastes. All of the seasonings, for instance, are listed in Nonna's recipe without any measurements. I give below what measurements I tend to follow and enjoy, but that's my preference. And, quite honestly, I'm not usually all that precise either! Especially when it comes to cooking. That cake still has me a bit stumped. (Though, it did turn out fabulously, in case you were wondering. So maybe there is an over emphasis on meticulously precise baking. Thoughts for a future post!)
Nonna's eggplant parmesan
Makes two 9x13 inch pans
2 largish eggplants, peeled and sliced to 1/4 inch rounds
Mozzarella cheese, either roughly 1-1.5 cups shredded, 5-6 slices fresh, or about 6oz
Small hunk of romano/parmesan cheese, for finely grating in between layers
Olive oil, for frying
[For the Batter]
1 cup beer
1 cup milk
2 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
[For the Sauce]
1-2 tbs olive oil
2 28oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, blended in blender
1-2 onions, chopped fine
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp basil
2 tsp salt
[For the Batter]
Whisk all of the batter ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. It should resemble crepe or thin pancake batter.
[To Fry Eggplant]
Heat a layer of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
Once heated, dip eggplant slices in batter and fry on both sides until crisp and a deep golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined baking sheet.
Repeat with remaining slices.
[For the Sauce]
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat.
Add onions and herbs. Cook over low heat until onions are softened and translucent, about 10-15 min.
Add tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for at least 20 minutes.
Take a little bit of sauce and spread on the bottom of each 9x13 in pan. In each pan, layer eggplant, then mozzarella and finely grated parmesan, then sauce. Do another layer of eggplant, then the rest of the sauce, and top with both cheeses.
Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-45 min. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving to make for easier cutting and serving. Enjoy!
You will likely end up with an excess of one component in this dish. It's especially hard for the eggplant and batter to line up perfectly. But, if you do end up with excess batter, I have often fried it up like a pancake. Then, during assembly, simply tear it up and add it in between slices of eggplant.
If you have enough to do more than two layers of eggplant, of course do so! Usually, though, I find there is only enough to do two. But if you have more, simply repeat the original layering pattern, only finishing with sauce THEN cheese on the top.
Feel free to substitute your favorite marinara for the sauce. It's meant to be a quick, simple sauce, nothing especially unique.
This dish can be a bit time consuming. Be forewarned! Only to say, do leave ample time to make it so you don't get too frustrated during the frying or find yourself cutting into the baked dish when it's still a bit soupy.
Make ahead: this dish can be frozen baked or unbaked and cooked or reheated at 350 until warmed through.
Make leftovers even more delicious: make an eggplant parmesan sandwich on sourdough or other crusty bread.