Last October, during our travels in Tuscany, Italy, my husband and I boarded a train in Florence and headed 29 miles southeast to the charming medieval town, Figline Valdarno, to take a private cooking class with one of the great chefs of Tuscany–Claudio Piantini. It was just the two of us with Chef Claudio in his small, utilitarian kitchen, amidst olive groves, vineyards and gardens of fresh produce.
Keeping our food preferences in mind, Chef Claudio crafted a menu just for us. Among the dishes we learned to make that memorable day, was Eggplant Parmesan. Although I had made Eggplant Parmesan before, this was my first time making it from a genuine Tuscan recipe under the auspices of a great Tuscan chef.
This recipe for Eggplant Parmesan is simple, yet divine in its simplicity and its use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. I like to serve Eggplant Parmesan with a fresh salad and some crusty Italian bread.
Adapted from Chef Claudio Pianitni
Before you begin. Have ready a 9×9-inch or 8×8-inch baking dish—you will want the baking dish to be large enough to hold all of the eggplant slices. Spray the sides and bottom of the baking dish with Pam.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Place the chopped garlic in the heated olive oil and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any remaining juice or puree from the can. Season with salt to taste. Cook on medium low heat until the tomatoes have thickened and there is very little liquid remaining in the pan. Add the basil leaves and cook on low heat for 5 more minutes. Place tomatoes in a food processor and process until smooth.
Peel the eggplants, then slice into 1/4 –inch rounds. Place the flour onto a large plate, and then lightly dip each side of the eggplant rounds in the flour. Heat the canola oil in the Dutch oven. Test if the oil is hot enough by sprinkling some flour in it. If the flour sizzles, the oil is ready. Place the eggplant rounds in the oil, a few at a time, making sure not to crowd them. Fry for about one minute, then flip and fry the other side for another minute, until lightly golden. Repeat this frying process with the remaining rounds of eggplant. Drain on absorbent paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spread a few spoonful’s of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Line the bottom of the baking dish with one layer of the eggplant rounds. Place some of the tomato sauce on each of the rounds, then sprinkle with some of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat this process until you have reached the top of the baking dish, or you have run out of eggplant rounds. Spoon some extra tomato sauce and sprinkle some extra Parmesan on the top layer, then place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
Makes four servings.