This is not a healthy entree.

It isn’t sleek, like its rolled and roasted city cousin:

 

 

 

 

Or sexy, like its oil-slicked auntie:

 

 

 

 

It’s shaggy. Eggy. Thick and somewhat cumbersome:

 

 

 

 

And absolutely delicious.

This is eggplant Parmesan — the kind that Nonna used to make. Breaded, fried and stacked with cheese, it cooks into a savory, melting pile of deliciousness that calls you back to the serving dish two (maybe three) times, calories by damned.

It was a perfect entree yesterday, when cold weather and rain overtook our springtime weekend. We couldn’t get rid of the chill in the house or the grayness of the day. Everybody craved something hearty, homey and warmth-inducing.

This dish — adapted from restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton’s cookbook Prune — was just the thing. Eggplant is thickly sliced, dredged in breadcrumbs and eggs, then fried in olive oil until golden brown. It’s then layered with a quick marinara, mozzarella and Parmesan and baked until golden.

I threw in some fresh spinach to make the dish a bit more nutritionally (and calorically) redeeming, but who was I kidding? This is old-country comfort food, designed to put meat on your bones and warmth in your tummy.

We won’t eat this every night. Or even every month.

But for those evenings when sleek and sexy won’t satisfy, this is the eggplant we’ll crave.

Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from Prune)

  • 2 medium regular or graffiti eggplant
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 balls fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 cup Parmesan
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • Dried oregano
  • Dried thyme

Cut the eggplant vertically into 1/4- to 1/3-inch slices. Lay them on a rack placed inside a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Lay another baking sheet on top of them and drain for 2 hours.

When done draining, dry the eggplant slices well with paper towels. Set them aside.

Puree the tomatoes, 1/3 cup olive oil and garlic in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Combine the breadcrumbs and flour in a pie plate. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk the eggs in another pie plate and season with salt and pepper.

Pour a half inch of olive oil and vegetable oil into a large saute pan. Place over high heat.

When the oil begins to shimmer, dredge the eggplant slices in the breadcrumb mixture, then the eggs. (That’s right: Crumbs then eggs.) Carefully slip them into the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd your pan. Fry until golden on one side, then flip and fry ’til golden on the other. Transfer the fried eggplant to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until you’ve fried all your eggplant slices.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Pour 1 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a greased casserole dish.

Cover the sauce with 1 layer of eggplant. Place mozzarella slices atop the eggplant, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with oregano and thyme:

Place half the spinach atop the Parmesan.

Add another cup of sauce, then the rest of the eggplant slices. Top the eggplant with the rest of the mozzarella and another 1/3 cup of Parmesan. Sprinkle with oregano and thyme, then top with the rest of the spinach.

Pour the remaining sauce on top of the spinach. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Place the casserole dish in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let the dish sit for 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread to sop up all the sauce.

Plan to diet tomorrow.

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