It’s hard to improve upon that spectacular gooey baked dish eggplant parmesan, aka melanzane alla parmigiana. It is the summer comfort food of choice for legions of Italians and Italian-Americans (and, no doubt, countless other humans, too).
I mean, why mess with a classic, right?
The truth is, some of us can’t help ourselves. That’s how I ended up with this concoction, which I have dubbed Parm Wonderful. Layers of eggplant and zucchini, grilled rather than fried, plus fresh mozzarella, plus fresh tomato sauce, plus parmigiano cheese. Lighter than the traditional version with breaded and fried eggplant, but still rich enough to qualify as true summer comfort.
I made this the other night while visiting my sister and her family in New Jersey. It’s a variation on the Grilled Summer Vegetables alla Parmigiana in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. That version calls for a layer of grilled peppers in addition to the eggplant and zucchini, but we didn’t have any on hand. (I know, what kind of Italians don’t have peppers on hand in high summer?)
We served it as a side dish, along with fresh Jersey corn (the best) and grilled flank steak. But it could easily be the main course ~ just add bread and a simple salad. And a glass of red wine, obviously (Chianti or Nero d’Avola, says my wine guru). You should make it, and make it your own.
What would your riff on classic eggplant parm be?
I decided it was time to give classic eggplant alla parmigiana a summer makeover. Sliced eggplant and zucchini are grilled, rather than fried, layered with fresh mozzarella and simple tomato sauce, and baked. This is a casual recipe, meaning that I made it on the fly and didn't take close note of amounts and measurements. However, it is adapted from a recipe in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy , where you will find precise measurements and instructions.
- 4 medium eggplants
- 3 medium zucchini
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Simple Tomato Sauce or your own fresh tomato sauce
- 1 (1 lb) ball fresh mozzarella cheese (not in water), thinly sliced
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high.
Cut the eggplants lengthwise or crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Brush the vegetables lightly on both sides with good olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt. Lay the vegetables on the grill grate and grill for 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on how hot your flame is. You want grill marks and a few blackened spots but you want to give the vegetables time to soften a bit as well. Transfer the vegetables to a plate.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Lightly coat a square, oval or rectangular baking dish with olive oil. Spoon in a little tomato sauce, enough to cover the bottom. Arrange half of the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, overlapping them a bit if necessary. Cover with 1/3 of the mozzarella, then spoon a layer of sauce over the cheese.
Arrange the zucchini on top of the sauce in one layer, overlapping them if necessary. Cover with half the remaining mozzarella, then a layer of sauce. Arrange the rest of the eggplant slices on top of the sauce and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover lightly with sauce and sprinkle the surface with the Parmigiano cheese.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes; uncover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, until browned on top and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit 10 to 15 minutes before serving.