When I used to have to go to the Upper East Side for work, I loved going to this little sliver of an Italian restaurant called Tre Otto. I always ordered the melanzane alla parmigiana, which was actually an appetizer, but quite filling with their awesome bread. It wasn't the usual eggplant parmesan with fried, breaded eggplants cutlets (although an eggplant parm sub is my go to order at pizza/deli joints); this was layers of delicate eggplant, fresh basil, and the most delicious tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella and baked to perfection. Sadly, I no longer go to New York for work, and apparently Tre Otto is no more, but luckily, I've been able to recreate the dish at home!
Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan) serves 2
1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
28-oz. can of San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
Slice the eggplant into 1/4"-1/2"slices, either lengthwise or crosswise, whatever will best fit into your baking dish. Place the slices on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet or on paper towels and lightly salt on both sides. Set aside while you start the tomato sauce.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and cook for minute or two, until softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes with their juices (I like to use kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes up in the can before adding them) and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer while you cook the eggplant, stirring occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
By now, the eggplant slices should have started to sweat. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Add enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a large skillet and heat on medium-high. Add only enough eggplant slices to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Brush the top of the eggplant slices with olive oil while they are cooking. Cook each side for a couple of minutes until soft and cooked through.
By now the tomato sauce should be almost done. Stir and few times and mash any leftover big pieces of tomato. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir the chopped basil into the tomato sauce and remove from heat.
Lightly brush the bottom of a small baking dish or two individual sized ramekins with olive oil. Start with a layer of tomato sauce, then add a layer of eggplant, a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese, and a layer of fresh mozzarella.
Repeat layers, finishing with a layer of tomato sauce and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving with some crusty bread.
You may have leftover sauce and/or mozzarella cheese, which would be perfect for making a margherita pizza!