The secret to great eggplant parmesan is a great tomato sauce. And a great tomato sauce starts with a great trito, the Italian version of the French mire poix or the Spanish soffritto. Because I was making a meatless sauce I elaborated the trito somewhat to intensify the flavors—and to use up some odds and ends. This recipe calls for canned tomatoes because fresh local Romas are not yet available but if you can get fresh by all means use them. There will be lots of extra sauce for other Italian dished. Freeze whatever you will not use within a couple of days.
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 medium onions, about 12 ounces total
- 1 large carrot
- 2 stalks celery
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic
- 1 small pepper, sweet or medium hot
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup chopped fresh herbs; I used parsley, thyme, savory, basil, and oregano
- 2 28-ounce cans kitchen cut or diced tomatoes
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 cup water
- 1 bay leaf
- Grated parmesan cheese, about ½ cup
- Shredded mozzarella cheese, about 1 cup
Trim the ends off of the eggplant and square two opposite sides. Cut into slices about ⅜ to ½ inch thick. Wrap and set it aside.
Coarsely chop the side pieces you cut from the eggplant, onions, carrot, celery, garlic, and pepper. Put into a food processor, in batches if need be, and reduce to a mince.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat then add the minced vegetables. Stir in ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes or until soft but not colored. Add the herbs, recover, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, water, and bay leaf, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for an hour.
Fish out the bay leaf and discard. Using a stick blender puree the sauce thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If you do not have a stick blender, let the sauce cool a bit, then puree in batches in the food processor.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. (Be sparing with the oil because eggplant is a like a sponge and can easily become greasy.) Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium high heat and, working in batches, brown the eggplant nicely on each side adding a bit of olive oil to the pan as needed. Set aside.
Cover the bottom of an 8” x 10” x 2” metal or ceramic baking dish with a thin layer of the sauce and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan cheese. Layer the eggplant overlapping the slices. Cover with more sauce, parmesan cheese, and the shredded. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until just bubbling. Turn on the broiler and finish until nicely browned. Allow to set for at least five minutes before serving.