About four months ago, my better half sent me a link to a recipe for “Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan.” It took me to an adaptation of the British chef’s version of the dish by Marian Burros, who substituted roasting for Oliver’s grilling of the eggplant. When I make this dish again, I will probably opt for grilling, since the roasting method required a lot of coaxing to render the eggplant slices “golden brown.” After 10 minutes in the oven, the slices had only the slightest shade of brown; even after an additional 5 minutes, I had to resort to broiling to give them some color. Eventually, however, after almost 30 minutes of roasting, the eggplant acquired sufficient color for me to consider them done.
Painstakingly tending to the eggplant, and not being the best multi-tasker, also kept me from simultaneously making the tomato sauce, grating the cheese, and preparing the breadcrumbs. Ultimately, the dish, which I started at 4:37PM, was not ready for serving until 7:22PM. Having a patient husband, whose sense of humor, along with a proffered glass of wine, however, made the time pass quickly. Next time I make this parmigiana—and there will be a next time—I’ll start by making the sauce and prepping the dish’s other components, and then grill the eggplant on my trusty old grill pan. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the Burros adaptation of the recipe yielded one of the finest eggplant parmigianas I’ve ever made.
My only variation from the recipe below was adding thin slices of smoked mozzarella to the first two layers of eggplant. In fact, the original recipe from Jamie’s Italy, suggests an optional 5-ounce ball of buffalo mozzarella. I also recommend the fresh-oregano-leaves addition to the bread-crumb topping. Both the cheese and the fresh herb contributed significantly to the flavor and aroma of this dish.
Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan from Marian Burros’ Adaptation in The New York Times
3 medium-large eggplants, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices (I used 5 small- to medium-sized eggplants, approximately 3 pounds)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can no-salt plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes (I used 2 14-ounce cans.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves (Because my basil leaves were so large, I tore them in two.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as needed (I used at least a cup.)
⅓ cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, optional
1. Preheat oven to 450° degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two or more baking sheets. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375° degrees.
2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onion. Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and dried oregano and sauté another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, breaking up whole tomatoes with your hands. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Add vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Into a 9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan, spoon a small amount of tomato sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and oregano, if using, with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.
4. Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and center is hot, 30 to 45 minutes depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Recipe can also be reheated.
Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Merlot