This Italian vegetarian favourite has layers of fried eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese. It's perfect for dinner parties because it can be made in advance.
5 large eggplants
4 tbsp. of coarse salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf (optional)
Handful of chopped basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
18 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
Peel the eggplants and then cut lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices.
Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking tray. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Let drain for 25 to 30 minutes. (The salt will draw out the bitter juices from the eggplant.)
While the eggplant is draining, make the tomato sauce. Add olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the garlic. Cook until garlic starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and let sauce simmer, until slightened thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in fresh basil.
Wipe the excess salt and juices off the eggplant slices or rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry well. Heat a large fry pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to come up 1-inch of the side the pan. When oil is hot, add eggplant slices in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry eggplant on both sides until golden brown. (Use 2 fry pans to make the process go faster.) Drain eggplant slices on paper towel to remove excess oil.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
To assemble the dish: Add a ladleful of sauce to the bottom of a 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish. Add a few knobs of butter. Layer eggplant slices, sauce, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and mozzarella into baking dish. Repeat to make 3 layers, finishing with cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes and then serve.
Yield: 6 servings.