I’ve been subscribing to the online version of Cooks Illustrated for several years, mostly for the reviews. However, I have fallen in love with a few of their recipes and techniques. In particular, I’m a huge fan of their fettuccine alfredo – definitely not diet food, but delicious as a very occasional treat (it starts with cream, adds some butter and gets finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano). The main technique I like involves toasting panko bread crumbs in oil before using them to bread some protein or hearty vegetable. The result is a super crispy crust with dramatically less oil. The recipe originally called for only egg whites, which does result in the crispiest crust, but I’ve found that 1 whole egg works nearly as well and doesn’t leave you with egg yolks looking for a job.

In this case, I’m talking about breading slices of eggplant. This incarnation of the recipe has been evolving for a while. If you take a look at the pictures you’ll see that I served the eggplant with wide egg noodles, red sauce (marinara), and alfredo (all homemade), with a side of sauteed mustard greens. I like the acidic bite that the red sauce adds to the rich and creamy alfredo. The combination really lifts up the eggplant. I make my own noodles, red sauce, and alfredo, but you can easily substitute store-bought for each of those items and still end up with a delicious meal. I gave approximate amounts for both the noodles and sauces based on a serving for four people, but this is all to taste, so more or less of anything won’t result in a kitchen disaster. Also, I try to use young eggplant that are very fresh, so I don’t think you need to salt the eggplant,  but if you’re had problems with bitter eggplant in the past you can slice and salt the eggplant and let it sit for about 30 minutes before wiping off the liquid and salt and proceeding with the recipe.

The reason you pre-warm the plates is that then the food stays warm longer. It’s the same reason that restaurants do it. This is especially important for dishes that have cream-based sauces. The other thing that can really make or break this dish is the use of real Italian cheeses – that stuff out of a green plastic can won’t cut it. The real cheeses pack a lot of flavor and for the small amounts you use don’t actually cost that much.

Eggplant Parmesan with Creamy Red Sauce

1 medium eggplant
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
1 egg or 2 egg whites
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1.5 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Pecorino Romano)
1 tbs oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella (in thin slices)
Fresh fettuccine or linguine (approximately 1 lb or enough to serve 4)
Alfredo Sauce (approximately 2 cups)
Tomato Sauce (approximately 2 cup)

Preheat a skillet over medium heat and then add the bread crumbs and oil and toast, stirring often, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Pour the toasted crumbs into a shallow dish and allow to cool. Once cool, stir in about 1 ounce of Parmigian-Reggiano.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix the flour with 1 tsp of black pepper and about 2 tsp of fine salt and place it in a shallow dish. Beat your whole egg or egg whites with 1 tbs water and place in another shallow dish. Layout your dishes in this order: flour, egg, and panko mix.  Slice the eggplant about 1/4 inch thick and then dip each piece in flour to coat both sides lightly. Dip into the egg quickly to coat both sides, and then dip into the panko mixture to coat evenly. Place each finished piece of eggplant onto a baking sheet. Bake the eggplant for about 25 minutes and then flip each one and bake for 5 more minutes.

Remove the eggplant from the oven and top each eggplant slice with 1-2 tbs of red sauce. Lay a slice of mozzarella over each slice and sprinkle with a little ?? Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes and then turn on the broiler and, watching carefully, brown the tops of the cheese slightly.

Try to time the pasta so that it finishes at about the same time as the eggplant. Toss the hot noodles with warm alfredo sauce and plate a serving into each pre-warmed bowl. Top with a little more red sauce and then with a few slices of eggplant.

A nice salad or sauteed greens completes this meal nicely.