Eggplant parmigiana (parmigiana di melanzane) or eggplant parmesan is a classic Italian dish that is moreish, wholesome and an absolute delight to eat!
Similar to lasagna but instead of pasta, bolognese and bechamel sauce, it's filled with layers of melt-in-your-mouth silky eggplant, flavourful tomato sauce (sugo) and cheese.
Baked instead of fried
Unlike the traditional method whereby the eggplants are shallow fried with a thin coating of flour (some recipes call for breadcrumbs), the eggplants will be oven-baked instead in this recipe to lightly golden and soft.
Not only will this significantly reduce the amount of oil used, the oven-baked method is also way more convenient and fuss-free.
In terms of taste, honestly, the difference is so negligible that you're much better off baking instead of frying. The purpose of shallow frying the eggplants is to soften and create caramelisation and this is easily achievable by baking.
Since the eggplants are baked and not fried, there will be no need to coat them with flour and hence this recipe is both vegetarian friendly and gluten-free!
Salt or not to salt eggplants
Traditionally, the technique of salting eggplants was used to get rid of bitterness (same goes with soaking) and draw out excess moisture.
Good news, nowadays, pretty much all of the eggplants available no longer taste bitter. The bitterness in eggplants has been largely bred out. So there is no need to salt the eggplants before cooking!
In terms of moisture, it's not a concern here as it'll be drawn out in the baking process.
- Eggplants (aubergine) - 5 may seem like a lot but this recipe will make 8 servings! Also, they will shrink significantly once baked as they have high water content.
- Fresh basil - very important, dried basil will just not do. One of the joys of eating a good eggplant parmigiana is the subtle hint of the sweet basil aroma.
- Passata - simply put, passata is just pureed tomatoes which is perfect to use for a thick, smooth sauce consistency.
- Parmesan cheese - best buy a block of parmesan cheese and grate at home. Economical and melts way better than store-bought grated cheese.
- Mozzarella cheese - again, grating at home is best for your pocket and melt factor.
Making an eggplant parmigiana is not complicated, nonetheless, a labour of love and patience. All up, from start to finish, this dish will take about just over 1.5 hours plus ~20 minutes of rest time before tucking in.
Since the eggplants are baked and not fried, there is actually very little hands-on cooking with most of the work being done by the oven!
There are 3 core steps to making this mouthwatering dish:
- Slice and bake the eggplants
- Make the sugo (Italian for tomato sauce prepared simply)
- Layer up and bake
Now, let's get into it!
Slice and bake eggplants
First, preheat the oven to 210°C/410°F.
With a sharp knife, thinly slice eggplants to about just under 1cm or ⅓ inch thick.
Then, neatly spread eggplant slices without overlapping on large, lined baking trays. You'll need about 3 large trays to bake all 5 eggplants at once.
Brush eggplants with olive oil on both sides then bake at 210°C/410°F fan-forced. I find when baking multiple trays of food in the oven, fan-forced tend to work best at even distribution of heat (and therefore caramelisation).
Make the sugo (tomato sauce)
Whilst the eggplants are baking, make the tomato sauce.
In a heavy-based pot, soften finely diced onions with a generous amount of olive oil on medium-low heat. Take care to not brown the onions as they will turn out slightly bitter rather than sweet. After about 7 minutes, add minced garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes.
The kitchen should be smelling amazing by now. Add passata, canned crushed tomatoes, sugar, dried oregano, salt, pepper and a little water. Mix well and bring up to a boil then simmer on low heat for 30 minutes without a lid.
Give the sauce a stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent the bottom from sticking. After 30 minutes, turn the heat off and stir in roughly torn fresh basil leaves. Set aside.
Now, back to the eggplants.
After 30 minutes of baking, take it out of the oven and flip them over and bake for a further 15 minutes.
Assemble and bake
Now that the eggplants and sauce are done, time to assemble! First, adjust the temperature of the oven down to 180°C/350°C conventional.
A standard-sized baking dish is ideal to use, at approx. 23x33cm (9x11inch). Otherwise, a slightly smaller casserole dish is better than one larger than the standard dimension (you don't want the eggplant parmigiana to be too thin!)
To start, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce at the bottom of the tray.
Similar to layering a lasagna, to create the first layer, line a single layer of eggplant slices without overlapping. Then, spread a layer of the tomato sauce followed by a thin layer of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
To create the second layer, place another layer of eggplants followed by tomato sauce then parmesan cheese. Repeat until all of the eggplants have been used up.
If using the standard-sized baking dish, you should get 4 layers (maybe 5). If using a smaller baking dish, you'll have more layers.
After the final layer, spread with remaining tomato sauce and top with remaining parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly.
For best results, rest the eggplant parmigiana for about 20 minutes before dividing into serving sizes and serving. This wait time is important to let the sauce and eggplant settle and hold their layers.
If you're really hungry, 10 minutes of rest time is better than nothing 😉
Sauce consistency matters
One of the biggest tips I have for this recipe is to make sure the sugo is reduced sufficiently before assembling the parmigiana.
The ideal consistency of the sauce is fairly thick, like the image above, a bit like bolognese. You want it to kind of hold a little shape when stirred. This will prevent the eggplant parmigiana from becoming too watery once baked.
When too watery/liquidy, the layers don't hold as well and each slice tends to be a little thinner compared to one made with a thicker sauce.
So make sure to reduce the sauce enough!
Eggplant parmigiana can be served as a main with a side of vegetables such as broccoli or with a pasta salad. I also recommend serving this with some crusty bread.
For something more substantial, can be served alongside meat dishes such as braises, meatballs, sausages, garlic bread etc.
Top tips for making the best eggplant parmigiana
- Reduce the sugo (tomato sauce) enough to a thick consistency - this will prevent the eggplant parmigiana from becoming too watery/saucy.
- Use a sharp knife to slice the eggplants (and be careful!) - a blunt knife increases the risk of the eggplants rolling as you attempt to cut through. Sharpen your knife, it's not worth getting cut!
- Grate the cheeses at home - store-bought shredded/grated cheeses (especially parmesan cheese) don't melt as well due to the anti-caking agent used. Block cheeses are more economical anyway! It's a win-win.
- Do not skip the parmesan cheese in between layers - the cheese (dairy) cuts through (and neutralises) the acidity of the tomato sauce. Plus, cheese is always a good idea!
Good to know (FAQs)
Yes! Best store in air-tight containers and lasts up to 6 months.
Absolutely! You can bake the eggplants, make the sugo and assemble the thing a day or two in advance. Just make sure to cover well with cling wrap (plastic) when stored in the fridge. One the day, simply take it out of the fridge 1 hour before baking and bake for ~35 minutes instead of 25 minutes.
Made this recipe? Let me know your thoughts or questions by dropping a note in the comments section below! I'd love to hear from you. 🙂
If you're active on Instagram, take a picture once you've made this recipe and tag me on Instagram! I'd love to see them!
- 1½ cup grated parmesan cheese ~130g / 4.5oz (note 1)
- 1½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese ~330g / 11.6oz (note 1)
- 5 eggplants (aubergine) large, about 1.8kg / 4lbs
- ¼ cup olive oil to brush with
Tomato sauce (sugo)
- 700 ml / 3 cups passata
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 onion finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
Bake the eggplants
- Preheat the oven to 210°C/410°F (fan-forced). (note 2)
- Thinly slice eggplant lengthways to about just under 1cm or ⅓ inch.
- Neatly spread eggplant slices onto lined baking trays (you'll need about 3 large trays) in a single layer. Brush eggplants with olive oil on both sides.
- Bake for 30 minutes then turn the eggplant and bake for a further 15 minutes or until both sides are lightly golden.
Make the tomato sauce (sugo)
- Whilst the eggplants are in the oven, make the tomato sauce. In a heavy-based pot, soften onions with olive oil on medium-low heat for about 7 minutes or until soft but not caramelised. Add garlic and soften for a further 2 minutes.
- Add remaining tomato sauce ingredients except for the basil leaves. Add ½ cup of water, stir well and bring up to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes without a lid. Stir every 5 or so minutes to stop the bottom from sticking.
- After 30 minutes, turn the heat off and stir in torn basil leaves. The sauce should be fairly thick, with a bolognese-like consistency. (note 3)
Assemble and bake
- Change the oven temperature to 180°C/250°F conventional. A standard sized baking dish is ideal to assemble this eggplant parmigiana, at approx. 23x33cm (9x11inch).
- Before layering, first, coat the base of the baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. To make the first layer, spread a single layer of eggplant slices and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce followed by a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.
- Repeat layering until all of the eggplants have been used up, approx. 4 layers.
- After the final layer, spread with remaining tomato sauce and top with remaining parmesan cheese and all of the mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 25 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven or until cheese blisters and turns golden.
- Rest for around 20 minutes before cutting and serving for the perfect layers!