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Traditional Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 6 to 8

Traditional Italian-American Eggplant Parmesan, as in this recipe, is made by coating and frying eggplant slices, layering the fried slices with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, then baking until hot and bubbly. It takes some time to prepare, but it really is delicious and can be prepared ahead. If you have a favorite store-bought marinara sauce, by all means substitute it for the homemade. However, this sauce is very quick and easy and, if time is an issue, can be made and refrigerated up to three days ahead. For a healthier and quicker version of eggplant parmesan, which is more like what is made in Italy, see my Light and Easy Eggplant Parmesan in the similar and related recipes links.

   Tomato Sauce

Prepare the sauce first. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the 3 tablespoons olive oil, then the onions. Sauté until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the eggplants into about 1/3-inch thick slices. Place the seasoned flour on a large plate or waxed paper. Place the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on a large plate or waxed paper and mix in the 3 tablespoons oregano. Dredge the eggplant first in the flour, then dip into the egg wash, then dredge in the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess crumbs. If you have time, place on baking racks and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to help the breading adhere. If not, proceed with frying. Heat about 1/2-inch olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant in batches, about 3 minutes per side or until golden brown, adding more oil between batches as needed. Let drain on baking racks or paper towels.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with olive oil or spray. Spoon a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom. Top with 1/3 of the eggplant in one layer. Spread about 1/3 of the sauce over the eggplant, then scatter with 1/3 of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Repeat the layers two times (If you do not have quite enough eggplant for the top layer, just space it out evenly. If there is too much, overlap it as needed.) Bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Notes: If desired, the casserole can be assembled a day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Add 20 to 30 minutes to the baking time, checking to be certain it is hot in the center. Leftovers reheat very well in the oven or microwave. Many recipes call for salting and rinsing the eggplant before use to remove any bitterness. I seldom find eggplant to be bitter so I do not do it. Additionally, I never remove the peel except for blemishes.