I never had eggplant while I was growing up, ever. We always had a garden full of fresh vegetables but I guess my parents were not very adventurous when it came to some things. Anyway, I am 54 years old and had eggplant for the first time around two years ago at Olive Garden, when I ordered eggplant parmesan. Let me say up front that I love Italian food, so the yummy marinara, pasta, and cheese was part of what I loved about it. I have also had it at Johnny Carino's, another Italian restaurant in Lexington. My husband, who is from Mississippi, did have it while growing up and it was battered and fried, much like fried green tomatoes.
I started doing some googling because my kids also love the dish from Olive Garden and I wanted to make it at home. I came across several web sites that suggested slicing the eggplant and then laying on a paper towel and sprinkling with salt to get out the extra moisture and soak up any bitterness. Had I not already had this yummy dish in a restaurant, I would have stopped right there. Watery and bitter are not adjectives that I look for when choosing my vegetables. I did as suggested, let it sit for about 30 minutes then rinsed the salt off and patted dry. Let me tell you, the eggplant experts are not wrong about the moisture. I was amazed at the water that came out of those slices!!!
I had made homemade marinara over the weekend with fresh herbs from my garden, and all those amazing flavors had two days to "marry" as Emeril would say.
I made an assembly line of sliced eggplant, all purpose flour with a little black pepper and oregano, beaten egg and a little milk, Italian bread crumbs with added thyme and oregano to "kick it up a notch" (also as Emeril would say), then my pan with hot canola oil. The eggplant really cooked up pretty quickly and browned nicely. I didn't want anything greasy, so I laid them on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven for about 5 minutes before layering.
First layer was homemade marinara, then eggplant, mozzarella and parmesan, layer again, and end with marinara. I baked it covered in foil for about 45 minutes then took off the foil and baked 15 more minutes. Not to be patting myself on the back or tooting my own horn or anything, but this is turned out waaay better than the restaurant versions. Sorry Olive and Johnny. Mine is just better. The real test will be when the kids get home to eat.
And this picture has absolutely nothing to do with anything I have just written ----- I am just so happy to have pumpkins on the vine and had to share it!