eggplant “parmesan” with basil pesto

like most other children, i used to hate eggplant. i continued doing so until i worked in a tapas restaurant in high school where they served the most delicious breaded eggplant covered with marinara and alfredo sauces. i think they called it eggplant parmesan. well i’m not sure how to prepare the classic version of eggplant parm and frankly i don’t care because this recipe is so delicious. and made with my beautiful farmer’s market eggplant! the parmesan happens to be in quotes because there is not a speck of parmesan in this recipe, just mozzarella. i just didn’t feel like calling it: breaded and pan fried eggplant in a bed of marinara topped with melted mozzarella and (get this) pesto.

the pesto is the quiet star that brings this recipe together. rather than a basil-y marinara sauce where the flavor can all too easily get lost i made a batch of the most basic pesto with my pile of basil. the pesto doesn’t take over the dish either as it can do because its just a small amount on top. it takes this from any old eggplant recipe to something deserving to be in a gourmet kitchen. (my delicious recipe for the pesto is here but i didn’t bother with the parmesan in this case because i didn’t have any and i wanted dinner, not a trip to the store!)

make this recipe quick! while basil is still cheap and smelling up the place at farmers markets and you can snag eggplants for a dollar. you’ll thank me after three months of kale and squash. (not to say we won’t have delicious fun this winter, i’m just not ready to let go of summer!)

eggplant “parmesan” with basil pesto
serves 3

1 good sized eggplant
1 cup grated mozzarella

breading:
1 to 2 cups fine breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried and crushed rosemary
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs

quick marinara:
20 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 white onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons wine
2 sprigs fresh basil
salt to taste

1/4 cup basil pesto

slice the eggplant in 3/4 to 1 inch rounds. sprinkle with salt and let sit in a colander in the sink. (this helps to remove bitterness.)

begin the sauce: roughly dice the onion and saute in olive oil until it becomes soft. add the wine and saute another minute or so. pour in the diced tomatoes, cover, and simmer while you get the rest of the meal ready.

mix breadcrumbs, herbs, and salt together in a bowl. in a separate bowl, beat the two eggs well.

after the eggplant has sat for at least 20 minutes (longer time is recommended but not necessary) rinse and pat dry. set up your breading station with eggplant followed by egg, breadcrumbs, and a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

dip the eggplant in the egg and coat thoroughly. transfer it to the breadcrumbs and coat well. to double coat, repeat the process. (this is why this recipe calls for 1 to 2 cups breadcrumbs, 1 for single coating and 2 for double—i used double.) i recommend using one hand for egg and one for breadcrumbs to avoid having breaded fingertips. when finished, place the breaded eggplant on the parchment paper.

when all the eggplant is breaded set aside for a minute. roughly chop the basil sprigs and add them to the marinara sauce. let simmer another minute or two. transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. place back in saucepan and add salt and pepper to taste. keep on a low temperature so your sauce is hot when the eggplant is done.

heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. add as many eggplants as you can fit and pan fry until they are a bit darker than golden brown with the lid on the skillet. as soon as you flip them top them with grated mozzarella and place the lid back on the skillet. they will be done when the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted.

place the breaded mozzarella on a bed of marinara sauce and top with a dollop of pesto. eat everything you made and wish you had more.

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