My Italian heritage has instilled a love of Italian food from a young age. I have wonderful memories of my aunts cooking incredible meals on a Sunday in their kitchen in Brooklyn, then learning how to make those dishes myself with my father at our home for our own Sunday dinners. Italian food is truly unique, versatile, and world-renowned.
Italian food, however, especially in the United States, can often be unhealthy. It often contains lots of bad fats and other ingredients that, despite being unhealthy, can also cause some gastric upset like heartburn. I learned that with some simple modifications I could take away a lot of the unfavorable elements in some of my favorite family dishes without sacrificing any of the wonderful flavors and textures.
This is one of the easiest eggplant dishes. The eggplant is delicious, crispy, and not greasy. While not the traditional way to make baked eggplant, this dish loses all the bad fats used for frying and cuts down on the prep time. Learned a simple trick for cutting eggplant into perfect slices every time: use a ruler and measure out ½ or ¼ inch increments along the eggplant. Put a toothpick or an imprint from a fork at each measured increment. When finished, use a knife at cut at each toothpick or on each fork mark. It couldn’t be easier!
The simple marinara sauce is rich, easy to prepare, and gives you some leftover over sauce to use later or freeze. This meal is perfect for reheating and it can be made in advance and frozen. It can be doubled for feeding larger crowds and is perfect to bring to a party or as a complete dinner for a family.
Easiest Baked Eggplant
- 2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced into ½ inch rounds
- 4 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
- ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I prefer Cento)
- 1 28-ounce can tomato puree (again, I find Cento to be the best)
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley (or ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup fresh grated mozzarella cheese
- Heat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with tin foil.
- Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on each slice of eggplant then dredge through the breadcrumbs, pressing occasionally to make the breadcrumbs adhere to the eggplant rounds.
- Arrange the coated eggplant rounds in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes until the top layer is golden brown. Flip the rounds and cook on the other side for 20 to 25 minutes until that side is golden brown also. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Prepare the sauce: Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, without burning. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano and dried parsley (if using fresh parsley, add it last when the sauce is finished), bay leaves and onion powder. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add 1 or 2 ladlefuls of marinara sauce to the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish or a lasagna pan. Add a layer of eggplant rounds then top with sauce. Repeat until all eggplant rounds are used or the baking dish is full. Eggplant rounds can overlap or can be cut to fit the corners of the dish or fill in gaps. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cover with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and remove the foil. Return to the oven and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the top is browned and bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve.
- For more cheese flavor: sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese on top of each eggplant round or add it to the breadcrumb mixture.
- For more vegetables: Add chopped spinach, Swiss chard or peas to each eggplant layer before adding a layer of sauce.
- If sauce is too chunky: Use a handheld blender to carefully pulse the sauce several times to desired consistency. Or carefully spoon 2 to 3 ladlefuls of sauce into a blender and pulse 2 to 4 times to desired thickness or consistency. Return the sauce to the saucepan and repeat with additional ladlefuls of sauce as needed.
Featured photo by Salomé Watel