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I’m a little late in getting in the Christmas spirit. I’m still trying to get there, and am starting to feel like I’m really running behind. I’ve just now sort of started my Christmas shopping, and in terms of Christmas baking… well, I have ideas and plans, so now I just need to motivation and spirit to get started! Hopefully soon. 🙂

In the meantime, it is super cold  here. Not compared to places where it snows and whatnot, but it’s cold for my area, and it’s very cold to work outdoors in! It’s times like this that warm comfort food is perfect. And for me, at least, Eggplant Parmesan fits that bill. It’s my favorite Italian dish of all times. Yes, it is a little time consuming with multiple steps and components, but so worth it! Especially since this recipe is baked instead of fried, so it’s healthier than your standard Eggplant Parmesan, and certainly doesn’t lack in flavor like some healthier alternatives sometimes do.

Salting the eggplant helps remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant, and remove some excess liquid so you don’t end up with watery Eggplant Parmesan. You make your own simple sauce, which could be skipped to make things a little simpler if desired. And the really unique thing about this recipe is that you leave edges of the eggplant exposed while baking it, so it doesn’t end up all soggy and mushy, but instead has some crunch to it! Gotta love a variety of textures! I serve it alongside some spaghetti with tomato sauce, olive oil and garlic, or butter and Parmesan to keep things simple and purely Italian! 🙂 Enjoy!Eggplant Parmesan

2 pounds globe eggplant, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
8 slices high-quality white bread, torn into quarters
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup fresh basil leaves chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
10 fresh basil leaves torn, for garnish

To prepare the eggplant: Toss half of eggplant slices and 1½ teaspoons kosher salt in large bowl until combined; transfer salted eggplant to large colander set over bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant and kosher salt, adding second batch to colander. Let stand until eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons liquid, 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange eggplant slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible, then wipe off excess salt.

While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Pulse bread in food processor to fine, even crumbs, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to pie plate and stir in 1 cup Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; set aside.

Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large zipper-lock bag; shake to combine. Lightly whisk eggs in a second pie plate. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour; seal bag and shake to coat eggplant. Remove eggplant slices, shaking off excess flour, then dip in eggs and let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with bread crumb mixture; set breaded slices on wire rack. Repeat with remaining eggplant.

Remove preheated baking sheets from oven; add 3 tablespoons oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place breaded eggplant on the sheets in a single layer; bake about 30 minutes, until eggplant is well browned and crisp, switching and rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping eggplant slices with wide spatula after 20 minutes. Leave oven on.

To make the tomato sauce: While eggplant bakes, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic is light golden and fragrant; stir in the crushed and diced tomatoes. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble: Spread 1 cup tomato sauce on bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish. Layer in half of eggplant slices, overlapping slices to fit. Spread 1 cup sauce over eggplant and sprinkle with half of mozzarella. Layer remaining eggplant and dot with 1 cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees F for 13 to 15 minutes, until bubbling and cheese is browned. Cool 10 minutes; scatter basil over top, and serve, passing remaining tomato sauce separately.

Source: Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated January 2004