Recipe: Mark Bittman's Eggplant Un-parmesan

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Makes: 4 servings
Time: about 1 hour
This take on eggplant Parmesan proves that (a) you don’t need a lot of oil to cook eggplant, and (b) you don’t need gobs of cheese to make it delicious. Try using zucchini or portobello mushrooms as variations, or serve the vegetables and tomato sauce over polenta for a more substantial meal. If you can’t find whole wheat breadcrumbs (panko-style are best), make your own by pulsing lightly toasted whole-grain bread in the food processor or blender.

2 1⁄2 pounds eggplant
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, preferably coarse-ground

1. Heat the oven to 450°F and position two racks so that they’ve got at least 4 inches between them. Cut the eggplant crosswise into 1⁄2-inch- thick slices and arrange them on two rimmed baking sheets.

2. Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to brush the top of each eggplant slice and sprinkle them with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Roast the eggplant until the slices brown on the bottom and sides, 10 to 15 minutes; turn and cook the other side until they’re crisp in places and golden, another 5 to 10 minutes. When they finish cooking, remove them from the oven and lower the heat to 400 degrees F.

3. Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, sprinkle with another 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

4. Cover the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with about 1⁄2 inch of the tomato sauce. Nestle a layer of eggplant into the sauce and top with some of the basil. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce and repeat until all the eggplant is used up; reserve some of the basil for serving. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and lots of pepper, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Simmer the remaining sauce (you should have about 2 cups) over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, while the eggplant bakes.

5. Bake until the breadcrumbs are golden and the sauce has thickened, 15 to 20 minutes; let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, garnished with the remaining basil; pass the remaining sauce at the table (or refrigerate or freeze it for another use).

Zucchini un-parmesan: Substitute 2 pounds zucchini (sliced lengthwise, preferably) for the eggplant and proceed with the recipe. Use mint instead of basil, if you like.

Portabella un-parmesan: Use 1 1⁄2 to 2 pounds portabella mushrooms instead of eggplant; remove their stems but leave them whole. Proceed with the recipe, only make one, not two layers. Use parsley instead of basil if you like.

Eggplant un-parmesan with polenta: Make a small batch of polenta and layer the tomato sauce, then the eggplant, the basil, and the polenta in a baking dish. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Top with breadcrumbs, if you like (it’s not necessary). Bake as directed.

Nutritional info (using all the sauce): Calories: 411 • Cholesterol: 0mg • Fat: 22g • Saturated Fat: 3g • Protein: 9g • Carbohydrates: 53g • Sodium: 1221mg • Fiber: 16g • Trans Fat: 0g • Sugars: 17g lunch