If you google this dish, you'll find a few variations on spelling, as well as countless recipe variations. And honestly, unless you have no hand at all for cooking, it's difficult to ruin this dish. It is a time-consuming one to make, in that it involves several steps, but none of them are difficult.
My maternal grandmother was Sicilian. She came here to the USA when she was only 21, and brought with her the skill to make a rock taste good. All the wonderful memories from my childhood revolve around the smell of olive oil and her kitchen. I can't recall a time we were there when she wasn't cooking or baking something.
Eggplant dishes might be an acquired taste for some, but not when you grow up eating them all the time. I still make this dish every Thanksgiving. It was part of our holiday dinners at my Grandma's house. But my Polish/German/Slovakian husband loves it, and so does our daughter. You don't have to be Italian or Sicilian to enjoy this.
So here is the recipe I use. It's modified in places from the way my grandmother made it, only for the sake of time. I hope she's forgiven me that.
*Two jumbo roles of paper towels.
*At least four large plates (six is better).
*A fork large enough to turn over frying eggplant slices in very hot oil.
*Approximately half a bottle of olive oil (you can substitute another oil but the flavor won't be the same).
*Flour or bread crumbs (I've used both, and prefer the taste the flour yields over that of the bread crumbs).
*Half a dozen eggs.
*A large frying pan.
*The time and patience not to turn your back on the frying eggplants (unless you want a fire in your kitchen).
*The ability to tolerate a very messy kitchen while making this dish.
*Spaghetti sauce. A large jar. LARGE. Doesn't matter what brand you use or what's in it. It will alter the taste of the dish depending on what's in the sauce, but experiment. Have fun. This is the step where I save time. Grandma made her sauce, of course, and I know how to as well, but it's an all-day thing. I use Prego sauce, with no meat. I like the taste of the dish best with this one.
*A large casserole dish. Use glass or one of those stones from Pampered Chef. The dish tastes best this way.
*Romano/Parmesan cheese - the kind you sprinkle on top of things. A large container will do.
*A large bag of shredded Mozzarella cheese. Yes, you can use the low fat stuff, but it won't taste the same.
*Garlic salt, oregano, basil, pepper, parsley. If you can't tolerate garlic, use regular salt, but the taste won't be quite the same.
*Two large bowls.
Cut the ends off the eggplants and then cut off the skin. Yes, you can eat it, but it doesn't taste as good if you leave it on. The dish has a rubbery, chewy taste to it.
Cut the eggplants into circles about a quarter of an inch thick. Too thin and they fall apart when you fry them. Too thick and they don't cook as evenly.
Stack folded paper towels on the dishes ahead of time, and have about two dozen folded stacks (four sheets per stack) of paper towels ready. This will help you keep up with the frying stage. This is the most challenging stage only because you have to move fast to keep from burning the eggplants, and because olive oil has a low flash point. In other words, never turn your back on it, and make sure you adjust the temperature down to low (2 or 3 on the dial) as soon as the oil bubbles. Trust me on this one.
Arrange your sliced eggplants and the bottle of oil so both are easy to reach as you work. The oil burns down quickly so you'll need to add a bit each time you put a new batch of eggplants in to fry.
Crack the eggs into one bowl and stir them until the yokes are broken. Pour flour into the second bowl. Pour just enough olive oil into the pan to make a thin coating. You don't want the slices floating in the oil. You'll only be flashing them.
Dip enough slices of eggplant to line the frying pan into egg, then flour, then place them in the oil. This is messy. You'll be washing the egg and flour mixture off your fingers each time you do this, or you can use a separate fork. I use my hands only because it's easier for me. Use what works best for you.
Once the oil starts bubbling, turn down the dial. Trust me. It will stay hot enough. Flip the slices and keep watching them carefully. You only want them golden, not charred. They will bake eventually so don't overcook them now or the dish will taste burned.
Use the paper towels to soak up excess oil. You'll need to change the paper several times before it's all soaked up. This is why this stage is tricky. You're doing that for different batches of fried eggplants, and frying new ones at the same time. Your stovetop will be a mess when you're done, but everything can be cleaned.
Once you are done frying all the slices, pre-heat the oven to 375.
Pour a very thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish. Yes. No, you don't need spray, butter, or any other coating. It will not burn. Not if you're using glass or a stone.
Over this layer is where I add the seasonings. I don't think it matters which layer you add them to, as long as you add them consistently. I don't use measuring spoons. I just sprinkle. If you feel more comfortable with a measured amount, find a recipe that uses them. There are many out there.
Next comes a layer of eggplants. Make sure they touch, but it's not necessary to stack them. If you want less layers you can stack them, but I don't do that.
The next layer is the mozzarella. Be generous. Cover the eggplant slices. Then I sprinkle on the Romano/Parmesan cheese. Not enough to drown it, but enough so you know it's there.
Continue these layers until you're out of eggplant slices. Pour the remaining sauce on top, add the remaining cheese, and you're ready to bake!
Bake in a 375 degree oven at least 45 minutes. The test is when you stick a fork into the middle and it's no longer cold. Don't worry. Nothing you've made is "raw." Even the fried eggplant slices can be safely eaten. All you're basically doing here is melting everything into each other and baking in the flavors.
The dish is best served warm, but I eat sandwiches of cold eggplant parmesan right out of the refrigerator, on bread with mayo, for about a week after Thanksgiving. And I'm still alive.
Good luck!! Let me know how it turns out, or if you have any questions!
Until next week, enjoy your Saturday!