August is a wonderful month. First of all, it is Constrained Gourmet’s birthday month – #Leo! Second, we have a bounty of summer vegetables at their peak. One of my favorite dishes that I only get in August is eggplant parmigiana. I look forward to it every year. You should only make it when you have fresh eggplant, tomatoes and basil. If I see it on a restaurant menu in the winter or spring, I would walk out!

frying eggplant

Frying eggplant

I guess you could call this a constraint because you are compelled to use the vegetables that come on right now immediately. You could also say that this time of year is unconstrained because of the incredible bounty we have in our local farmers market, grocery stores and even nice neighbors gardens. My new neighbor came over with beautiful tomatoes the other day and they smelled like summer and tasted even more so! The smell of tomatoes is so distinctive and it brings back memories of when you were a kid, eating tomatoes off the vine. Oops, that was me a few days ago! Food and aromas can bring back memories that are so vibrant; you can almost feel when the memory was made.

Make this recipe and you will fall in love with eggplant parmigiana

When I met my husband, we were talking about foods he did not like. There were very few, but I was surprised to hear that eggplant was on the list. I had eaten eggplant my entire life in the summer, having a mother from Italy who grew it in our garden. But I am aware that many men, in particular, and those from the midwest have not had eggplant cooked in the Italian method. So, I set about to change his mind for one of my favorite vegetables.

eggplant ready for frying

Eggplant ready for frying

Of course, one taste of eggplant parmigiana and we had an about face. Honestly, I believe he changed when I gave him a sample of the fried eggplant before I had even smothered it with homemade marinara, cheese and basil. What I love about eggplant parmigiana is the complexity of the dish – it almost tastes like lasagna, but with no meat. It is truly special and I encourage you to try making it.

eggplant parmigiana

Eggplant parmigiana

Like anything worthy, this dish takes time to assemble. Try making it on the weekend when you can enjoy a glass of wine while cooking and maybe listen to some nice music in the background. If you can, set your table outside and dine alfresco! You’ll enjoy it even more.

Summertime Eggplant Parmigiana

3 small to medium size eggplants
1/2 cup of flour
1-2 eggs, depending on their size
2 cups of bread crumbs
1 recipe marinara sauce (see below)
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup of fresh basil, torn
canola oil for frying

Marinara Sauce Ingredients
2 pounds of fresh tomatoes (will yield 4 cups of tomatoes after peeling and coring)
4 small or 2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon peperoncini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of julienned basil
1 bay leaf

Make an x in the bottom of each tomato. Drop into boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and run cold water over tomatoes to stop cooking. Peel and core tomatoes. Add olive oil to stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic and peperocini to cold olive oil. When the garlic starts to smell fragrant and turn a deeper gold color, add tomatoes. (Be careful since the tomatoes have juice and you have hot oil in the pan.) Add bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cook 15 minutes. Add basil and let cook 10 more minutes. If needed, add 1-2 teaspoons of tomato paste. Make marinara sauce and let cool. Slice eggplant into 1/4-1/2 inch slices. Be consistent so that you don’t have some slices thicker than others. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Use paper towels to absorb the bitter juice that is expelled from the salted eggplant. In a row from left to right, set out flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs. Take each eggplant slice and toss it in each. Once complete with all slices, proceed to frying. Heat canola oil over medium high heat in nonstick frying pan. Fry each slice until golden brown and let drain on cooling racks. Salt over the top when they come out of the frying pan. Be sure to taste one (or two!). When the eggplant is done, bring the sauce, eggplant, cheese and basil to a work area with a casserole pan. First, place marinara in the bottom of the pan. Top with eggplant, cheese, sauce and basil. Continue layering until you are done with the eggplant or you have 3 rows. Finish with tomato sauce. Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

layering eggplant parmigiana

Layering eggplant parmigiana

Wine Recommendation: The acid in the tomatoes calls for a high acid wine. For a white wine, I recommend a Gavi, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. For a red wine, I recommend a Chianti or Barbera.