1 medium-large eggplant
1 loaf good rustic bread
2 Tbl butter
3 cloves garlic
1 large hot Italian sausage (~1/3 lb)
10 oz. sliced white mushrooms
1/4 cup red wine
2 cups good chewy spaghetti sauce (see note)
~6 oz. shredded mozzarella
~1-2 oz. finely grated parmesan
~1-2 oz. pasta per person
Preheat the oven to 350.
Peel the eggplant, and slice into discs about 1/4 - 1/3 inch thick. Salt liberally on both sides, and place in a single layer in colander to drain. Let sit 1 hour, flipping halfway through.
While the eggplant drains, cut 4-6 large slices of the bread; if the bread is crusty, remove crusts. Tear into large pieces. Place in food processor and pulse about ten times, until the bread is broken down into large crumbs. Melt butter in saucepan; crush garlic into that, and cook very briefly. Drizzle butter and garlic over crumbs, pulsing a few more times to incorporate. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Cook, turning gently every five minutes, until crumbs are dry, crunchy and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool.
Remove the sausage from its casing, and fry with a little oil until cooked and a little browned; remove from skillet. Fry mushrooms in the sausage grease and a little more oil, until they have given up all their liquid and gotten a bit dried and browed; remove from skillet. Deglaze the skillet with wine and reduce; add spaghetti sauce and incorporate, reducing and thickening sauce a bit if needed. (This does well with our ultra-thick homemade sauce; the wine loosens it slightly.)
After eggplant has drained thoroughly, rinse off the salt on both sides; pat dry with paper towels. With another layer of paper towels, press the eggplant between two cookie sheets, weighted on top, for about ten minutes, to make sure they are good and dry.
Dredge eggplant slices in egg and then bread crumbs. If the crumbs don't adhere, layer a few under and over the slices. (They don't really have to be glued on -- they're just there for texture.) Layer eggplant in casserole with sausage, mushrooms, sauce and mozzarella, in 2-3 layers. Top with a final layer of mozzarella, and a good layer of parmesan on top.
Bake until top is thoroughly browned, about 45-50 minutes. Towards the end of that time, cook the pasta, and serve alongside.
Notes and VariationsPossibly the best and most complicated recipe I've ever come up with on a pure basis of "this oughtta work". Really excellent, but requires about 1.5 hours of prep, and then an hour of baking.
The original version of this had only one cup of ultra-thick spaghetti sauce: this was very tasty (and the cheese crusted magnificently in the casserole) but was a tad dry, so two cups is probably ideal. Note that it is not intended to be swimming in sauce, though: the whole point here is that you get the crunch of the crumbs and the chewiness of the mozzarella, not a soup of tomato and eggplant. If not served with pasta, you might just leave it with the single cup of sauce, letting the cheese brown on the bottom. And for heaven's sake, don't go to this much work and then pour on a generic spaghetti sauce!
The homemade bread crumbs are crucial to the result: the crunch they provide adds texture (as well as a subtle garlic undertone). It is possible that panko might work, but conventional bread crumbs wouldn't -- the "crumbs" should be relatively large and crunchy. It's likely that the dreging in egg could be omitted, in favor of simply layering the crumbs into the dish.
The spiciness of the sausage is an important component of the flavor. You could substitute for it (with a veggie or turkey sausage), but compensate if necessary by adding a bit of extra spice to the sauce.
Peeling the eggplant is important, to avoid the tough rinds in the end result. Draining and drying it thoroughly is deathly important, so the dish doesn't get soggy. (You probably don't have to use kosher salt, but I've been watching Good Eats for enough years that it's automatic.)
I had originally expected to broil this at the end, but it wasn't necessary: the cheese should eventually brown if you bake it long enough, and that gives the eggplant time to soften.
SourcesInspired by an absolutely lousy eggplant parmesan that I had at Bertucci's on Date Night: flavorless, soggy eggplant with rinds so tough that I needed a sharp knife to get through them, and a generic tomato sauce that added nothing to it. That left me craving a *good* eggplant parm, and I gradually convinced myself (correctly) that I could come up with a vastly better interpretation, which I did for dinner on Sunday.
Kudos to Cooks' Illustrated, from whom I got some of the component techniques (especially the salting, draining and pressing of the eggplant, and the concept of the homemade bread crumbs).