Above is the “healthy” parm and below is the “traditional” parm. I obviously took more time with the presentation of the first one. By the time I made the second parm I was pretty tired of cooking.
On the Italian side of my family, when it comes to the food, we tend to keep it simple. Simply heavy, simply delicious, and simply bad for you. When I heard that there was a way to make eggplant parmesan a little more healthy, by eliminating oil and frying, I just had to try it. After all, we are living in the age of calories, cholesterol, and heart disease. My great-grandmother used to tell me, “dolly, when I was a girl there was no cholesterol.” She lived into her 90’s. If only people were still made of such strong stuff.
I made two different parmesans, and let my family decide. Here’s what we came up with.
For my “healthy” parm I made homemade marinera sauce. The sauce was comprised of a colander full of plum tomatoes, a handful of Italian basil, 2 fresh garlic cloves, 5 sprinkles of salt, enough olive oil to coat the pan, garlic powder, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and red pepper flakes.
First, I cut slits and boiled all the plumb tomatoes for a minute to losten their skins. Then I ran them under cool water and attempted to de-seed and de-skin them. I just did the best I could. While I was doing that, I put a pot on the stove, on medium high, with only enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Once the oil was hot I added the garlic cloves, which I had previously crushed. When that started smelling delicious I added my first sprinkle of salt. I gave that about 10 seconds to commingle before adding the tomatoes. After the tomatoes were in, I added everything else, but the Italian basil. I let everything stew merrily for around 10-15 minutes on medium heat, with the lid on the pot. When I was satisfied with how long the sauce had stewed I took a fork and smashed around in the sauce to break up the big chunks. Lastly I added the italian basil and turned the heat off. I Let the finished sauce stew with the lid on until I was ready to use it. Though the heat was off, the sauce continued to cook a little.
This sauce really made a difference. It was very fresh, very low in calories, and low in sodium. It didn’t taste generic and I knew for a fact it hadn’t sat on a shelf for months. I love knowing what is in my food and how old it is, so I was very pleased.
Next I got the eggplants ready. In this parm I used 2 large eggplants and began by peeling and cutting them.
Once the eggplant was cut, I got 3 bowls ready with the 3 rounds of treatments the eggplant slices had to dance through.
In the first bowl was a flour and pepper mixture. The second bowl had 3 scrambled eggs. The third bowl contained italian bread crumbs, fresh grated parmesan cheese, dried oregano, and dried basil all mixed together.
Each slice was dipped int he flour mixture first, to dry them out and help the egg mixture, which was second, stick. Lastly they got a coating of the bread crumb mixture and were placed on a baking sheets I had sprayed with pam. If you can use the olive oil flavor of pam, do.
Once each slice had been dressed and placed on baking sheets, I placed them all in the oven at 375 for 20 minutes on 1 side, and 15 minutes the other.
Finally it was time to construct my parm. For this last part of the process I also needed 2 balls of fresh mozzarella, which I got at the Italian Deli down the street from my house. It is more fresh (they make it there), has less calories, and less sodium then the shredded mozzarella. I cut it up as best I could and placed all my ingredients in front of me.
I fetched a deep baking dish and ladled some of my marinera sauce onto the bottom. Next was a round of eggplant slices, then a round of fresh mozzarella, then eggplant again, then sauce, then mozzarella, and all over again until everything was used up. At the very top of the parm I cheated and threw a little shredded mozzarella to fill the gaps. I didn’t use more than a handful though.
When I was done putting the parm together, it went into the oven for 25 minutes (15 covered, 10 uncovered).
The final product was very fresh and delicious! The fresh mozzarella really made the dish shine. It added a nice creaminess and thickness without being too heavy. Because the pieces of eggplant were not fried, there was no oily taste, but it did seem a little dry.
For this parm, I only used one eggplant. I followed the same steps as above up until the baking step. I cut these slices in half an extra time and fried them in olive oil instead.
I made sure all the pieces were nice and crisp before pulling them out of the pan.
In a narrow, deep, baking dish, I poured a little bit of store-bought marinera sauce. Then I put in a row of eggplant, then shredded mozzarella, then eggplant, then marinera, until all the eggplant was used up. I didn’t end up using all the shredded cheese or marinera sauce. This parm went into the oven for 20 minutes (it stayed covered until the last couple minutes).
The final product was amazing. The eggplant was still a little crispy, because of all the oil it was not dry at all, and the cheese was ooey gooey good! The store-bought sauce tasted a little generic and I shudder to think of the calories in this parm though.
MIX THE RECIPES!
We all agreed that a mix of the two would create the “perfect parmesan.” If I fried the eggplant slices, but used the fresh mozzarella, a little of the shredded mozzarella, and used the home made marinera, I would have had pure gold. I guess my family finally has the perfect eggplant parmesan recipe, but it is by no means healthy. It is just a little less unhealthy than my old recipe.
When the doctor would tell my great-grandmother to eat more healthily, she used to say, “I am going to die full!” She did not believe in diets and lived happily without them. I am not willing to roll the dice like that, but indulging here and there is alright by me. After all, I am still young and do not want to live a life without fantastic meals in it!