Take It Easy—Cheesy Eggplant Parmesan Bake
Parenting definitely changes the way you are used to cooking and I have found that reinventing some of my old standards is the best way I know how to feed everyone and still keep some semblance of my old culinary self. Instead of shying away from old faves, I figure out how to make them within the time constraints that I have. For example, this week I found myself with all of the ingredients for eggplant parm in my fridge and was craving it but knew my crazy schedule would not allow me the opportunity to make it happen. We’re huge fans of eggplant parmesan in our house (who isn’t, right?), but I don’t make it often because my usual recipe is a bit labor intensive and I don’t usually have the time (or energy) to make it on a weeknight. Breading the pieces of eggplant and then frying or baking them is the most time consuming of the steps and is usually what deters me from making it unless I find myself with spare time (ha!). I knew my eggplant was not going to make it to the weekend so I knew I had to come up with a plan to get it cooked before it was passed it’s prime. Letting a vegetable go to waste is a crime in my house so I decided to try my hand at an easier version of my eggplant parm recipe, one that wouldn’t require much prep time and most importantly, one that would only require one cooking vessel.
There are two things about this recipe that make it much easier and faster to put together. The first shortcut is slicing the eggplant extremely thin. Since I wanted to layer it all up and shove it in the oven, thinly slicing the eggplant would allow it to cook much more quickly. Also, I found that the thinner the eggplant, the more delicate and light the dish tastes—similar to the eggplant dishes I’ve had in Italy. The second thing I did was skip my usual time consuming egg and breadcrumb coating in lieu of a light sprinkling of bread crumbs—another great way to keep the dish feeling light and delicate and less like the gut-busting eggplant parms we all know and love. Don’t get me wrong, when I say “light” I don’t mean “diet”. There’s plenty of cheesy goodness in this dish and it’s still plenty fatty (don’t worry!), but skipping the heavy breading and frying not only reduces the prep time, it definitely lessens the calories a bit too. If you really want to lighten the dish up, you could certainly use part-skim ricotta and mozzarella and (dare I say it?), use less? GASP!!! Cutting down the steps of my usual dish meant that I was able to get this baby in the oven in under 10 minutes—Huzzah!
Much to my surprise, the recipe came out delicious and I have to say even better than my usual eggplant parm. I think I might have to ditch my old ways and stick with this one. There’s something magical that happened with the thinly sliced eggplant softens up and melts ever so slightly along with the cheese and sauce. It’s beautiful when it comes out of the oven all bubbly and glistening and even more gorgeous when sliced and topped with a spoonful of extra sauce. Who knew that having less time to cook could force you to stretch your culinary muscles and allow you to come up with something new and even more delicious! Hooray!
Easy Cheesy Eggplant Parmesan Bake
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for topping
- 1 large eggplant, thinly sliced (about 1/8th of an inch in thickness)
- 16 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 2-2 1/2 cups marinara sauce
- *optional -1/2 cup basil, torn
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine beaten egg, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Spread approximately a 1/2 cup of marinara sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Layer eggplant over sauce, overlapping them slightly in two rows (about 8 slices). Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant slices.
Top with another 1/2 cup (or so) of marinara sauce and 1/3 of the sliced mozzarella. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the basil now if you have it (I did not).
Sprinkle 1/3 of the breadcrumbs over the mozzarella and repeat the entire layering process until you use up all of your ingredients. Finish the layers by sprinkling extra parmigiano cheese and breadcrumbs over top to give it a nice crust. Note: The amount of layers you end up depends upon the size of your eggplant. I had a large eggplant and ended up with 3 layers.
Cover the entire dish with foil and pop into preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake for 10 additional minutes. Allow to cool for 8-10 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve alongside a plate of pasta or a lovely green salad.
Christina Stanley-Salerno is a mama, recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and blogger atTakeBackYourTable.com. She loves cooking for and with her family. Life is hectic, but Christina is passionate about mealtime because she believes that family meals are the glue that holds everyone together. Creating simple, quick and healthy meals is her specialty and her trick to keeping the family meal a reality, even on busy weeknights.
Follow her on Twitter @TakeBackTables