Grandma's Eggplant Parmesan

Today is Easter, but I'm stuck in NYC, unable to go home. Usually I'd be making Eggplant Parmesan with my grandmother. She likes to prepare it for Easter because I'm a vegetarian and it ensures I'll have something to eat. But when I look around the Easter table at the ham and potatoes, and see that the Eggplant is the only dish on the table with tomato sauce and cheese, I can't help but feel especially lucky to have a meat allergy!

It's eerie. Although I have been making Eggplant with her for years, and I try to make it in more or less the same way, hers tastes completely different. It is impossible to reproduce, in that classic Grandmother-food way. We also have a little ritual around making it. Every year, it is the unanswerable question: will Stacy be making the Eggplant with Grandma? And, yes, every year, she will be. Then, there is the night-before plan making. My mother calls over to set up a time (which is 10am, the same time every year). My mother scolds her not to start before I get there (which of course she does). By the time I arrive, it's been hours since my grandfather has cut the eggplant into super-thin slices. They've been carefully salted (see below for method) and arranged in a lime green colander. Now the colander sits on a plate full of dark purple juice, a pot of water bearing down on the eggplants. The dutch oven has been taken out and placed on the counter, along with a bottle of olive oil. On the stove, the Grandma sauce is bubbling away.

As we cook, my grandfather wanders over to inspect our work. Every year, he says, "Are you waiting until they bubble before you turn them over?" He's rarely satisfied with the first batch. It is only after the oil has gotten hotter and the excess flour from the eggplants has started coloring it that the eggplants begin to turn the crispy brown he likes. He peers down at the darker, bubbling slices. "Yes. That looks right. You know, my mother made the best Eggplant Parmesan. Delicious." He shakes his head in lament. My grandmother prods at the slices in the pan. And then, every year like clockwork, after he sits down again, my grandmother tells her side of the story. "You know, in my family, we don't cook the eggplant in the oven. We think it's perfect just like it is. Why do you have to do anything more to it? It's delicious. But then M's family, they always bake it. So now I have to bake it too. Why don't we have a little taste, just to see?" We then make tiny plates of mini-Eggplant Parms. We each put down one slice fresh from the pan. We stick a tiny dot of sauce on top and spread it around. And then we sprinkle a dusting of Parm on top. After a bite, she says, "I think it's perfect, just like this."

So here it is. The grandparent's version of Eggplant Parm. Of course, for reasons inexplicable, it will taste nothing like it.


  • 1 eggplant, deep purple and firm
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a Tbsp of water.
  • Sauce (see below)
  • Fresh powdered Parmesan cheese
  • Shredded cheese for the top, a blend of Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano…really whatever you want. Scary truth: my grandparents use a blend of Mozzarella and Cheddar. Yes indeed.
  • Olive oil. A huge jug of it.

Quick Summary of Steps

  1. Peel and slice the eggplant. Salt liberally and place in a colander to sweat for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare sauce.
  3. Bread the eggplant. Dip each slice in egg, then coat with flour.
  4. Fry eggplant slices over high heat in a thin layer of olive oil, adding more oil as necessary.
  5. Layer cooked slices on paper towels to remove excess oil.
  6. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with a thin layer of sauce. Add the first layer of eggplant. Cover with a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle powdered Parmesan cheese on top. Add next layer.
  7. Top with a blend of shredded Italian cheeses.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and eggplant is soft.

In my mind, Eggplant Parm is ideally served over Parmesan Polenta with a light salad on the side. A second best is crusty bread. But I categorically reject serving it with pasta (oof!).

Detailed Directions

I use my standard sauce recipe. My grandparents use 3 large cans of tomato puree and add salt, pepper, powdered onion, powdered garlic, and dried Italian seasoning. But hey, you can afford to do this when you're grandparents and your food comes out like magic. But don't worry too much about the sauce: keep it simple, and the eggplant will flavor it while it's in the oven.

Salt the Eggplant
It is essential to salt the eggplant to remove bitterness at least 30 minutes before you start cooking. I peel the eggplant first (not common) and cut it into 1/4 in thick slices. This is tricky. Too thin, and you don't really notice you're eating eggplant. Too thick, and the result is either the Big Mush or worse, the Big Rubber Thing (see Eggplant Parm horror stories).

The Stacy Method: arrange the eggplant slices in a colander in one layer. Sprinkle with (a good deal of) salt. Arrange the second layer. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat. Place colander on a dish and hope for the best.

Here is the secret Grandparents Salting Method: Prepare the stack of sliced eggplants. Taking the first slice on the cutting board, sprinkle salt on the entire thing, being careful to cover every last millimeter. Then, flip the slice over. Sprinkle thoroughly with salt. Continue. When every slice is salted on both sides, arrange the eggplant in a colander, put colander on a dish (to collect the water), and place a pot of water on top for pressure. Wait for granddaughter.

Bread the Eggplant
Prepare a plate with a mound of flour, a bowl with beaten eggs, and an empty plate for the breaded eggplant. Dip a slice in the eggs, being carefully to drain off the excess. Plop the slice into the flour to coat on both sides, shaking off loose flour.

When you have prepared enough for one round, you could start frying…

Fry the Eggplant
When I had the my own Tiny Kitchen, I did not own a large frying pan for reason of it wouldn’t fit anywhere. Back in those days, I literally – yes, literally – would fry 3 slices of eggplant at a time in an omelet pan. Shudder. Now I have a large frying pan that makes all go a lot more smoothly. But if you have a Dutch Oven, you are really in the money.

The most important lesson you will learn when making Eggplant Parm is: do not skimp on the oil. Just stop thinking. Pour with your eyes closed. Go to your happy place. Sure, you can try the spray oil method. You can sauté the eggplant in a small amount of oil and pray they’ll cook through in the oven. You can skip the frying process entirely and broil the eggplant. Just try it. You’ll see. (Refer to Eggplant Parm horror stories.)

I begin with a layer of olive oil that covers the entire pan, about ¼ inch thick. Don’t worry! We’ll add (plenty) more later. When the oil is very hot, add enough slices to cover the pan. Continuing breading the remainder of the eggplant as you wait.

When you notice that the tops of the eggplant have begun to bubble, this is a sign that the oil has sufficiently penetrated the slice and it is ready to be flipped. I do this with a fork. Repeat for opposite side. This is your first batch, so your eggplants will remain pale in color. But they should definitely be slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. If they are not soft, do not remove!

Once done, I arrange the slices on a plate lined with paper towels to remove excess oil. I think it goes without saying that we don’t do this at my grandparents’ house. And you know what? I think it’s probably a fairly useless step, since the small amount of oil the towels soak up is not that much. But it makes one feel more virtuous.

Prepare the Casserole
As the remainder of the eggplant is frying, you can get started building the casserole. Hopefully in classic Stacy/Grandma fashion, you have been building mini-Eggplant Parms as you’ve been cooking, and you probably don’t have much left to actually bake. But calm your anxiety by knowing you are eating Eggplant Parm when it is “just perfect.”

Add a thin layer of sauce to coat the bottom of a casserole dish. I usually use a medium-sized square one to cook 1 eggplant. It doesn’t really matter, just ask yourself: how thick do you want your stack of eggplant to be? The bigger your dish, the fewer your layers.

My grandmother has a very specific method of layering. She works in slices, not layers (as in lasagna, for instance). Each slice of eggplant gets premium treatment. So she first arranges slices into one layer. She then adds a Tbsp or so of sauce to the middle of each slice and uses a spoon to spread it around the slice. She then sprinkles each slice with a very light dusting of powdered Parmesan cheese. For the next round, she places one slice directly on top of another in the dish. This is to create little “stacks” in the final product. There it is. You have learned from the master. The result is a less saucy, lightly cheesed, densely packed casserole.

Oh yes, and you should still be nibbling during this process. After all, not all of the slices are going to fit in this dish!!

When you have exhausted the eggplant, your last layer of sauce and cheese will be a little more robust. Add enough sauce to fill in the holes and cover the top. Add a nice healthy layer of cheese to the top. As grandma says, “Two cheeses are always better than one.” I assume that also means “Three cheeses are always better than two,” etc.

Bake It
Bake at 375 degrees or according to the dictates of your oven. 30 minutes at least, but one could do a bit more. Just make sure that the cheese is nicely browned. In theory, you have already cooked the eggplant to perfection in the pan. So this last step is meant so saturate the flavors of the eggplant in the sauce and the sauce in the eggplant, and to make the whole thing melt in your mouth.

Serve with Parmesan Polenta and a light salad.

Eggplant Parm Horror Stories

Why is Eggplant Parm so easy to mess up? Actually, I think it is hard to ruin if you follow all the necessary steps. But sometimes, though neglect, laziness, or health consciousness, we destroy Eggplant Parm with catastrophic results.

Have you ever ordered Eggplant Parm in a restaurant? Don’t. Cooking Eggplant Parm is not hard, but it does take some love. Restaurants, they don’t got no love. Also, many restaurants (I won’t name any in particular, but the Olive Garden) believe that people do not like the taste of eggplant, so they overbread it. With breadcrumbs. And batter. Or something. Anyway, it’s hideous. It shan’t be spoken of.

Another restaurant nightmare: the great blob of grease. What?? How they even achieve this, I’m not quite sure. Here’s the only viable theory: They peel an eggplant, then drop the entire thing directly into a huge vat of bubbling canola oil. Then they mush it up with a fork and add sauce and cheese. Really, it can’t be explained in any other way.

Finally, the Health Disaster. This involves skipping the frying step. Restaurants that do this plunk the slices into the oven and pray. The result is something slightly bitter and chewy. And you know what? They still have to add a lot of oil—so? Just say no.

All that said, Eggplant Parm is the ultimate test of a restaurant’s Italian mojo. If they can pull this off, they are for reals. I have had a good Eggplant Parm out—I think once. It was not Grandma’s for sure, but it shocked me to my core!

And here are some disasters from the world of home-cooking. Back when I was scared of the oil, I did try to cook the Eggplant in a small amount of oil. I would gently sauté the slices until they were sort of done (my grandfather would have fainted) and then hoped they would cook more in the oven. I would let the dish bake for an hour or so. Guess what?


A friend made Eggplant Parm for me once (not Amanda, whose family version of Eggplant Parm tastes eerily like mine—telling). Dear God. The slices were so thick it was like eating a Portobello mushroom. Nor were they cooked all the way through. Gah! I respectfully ground a few hunks in my mouth and asked for more salad.

In short, Eggplant Parm is delicious. But it can also be a disaster. Don’t be lazy, don’t skimp on the olive oil, and unless you really trust the place, never order Eggplant Parm at a restaurant!




Add a New Comment

tag your recipe!
Your recipe will appear automatically under one of the side menus by adding one or more of these tags:
appetizers breakfast breakfast-eggs desserts desserts-tips desserts-web drinks drinks-hot drinks-summer drinks-wine drinks-na meat-beef meat-pasta meat-pork meat-poultry meat-web salads-green salads-green salads-vegetable salads-bean salads-hearty salads-meat salads-dressings seafood sides-vegetable sides-starchy sides-bean sides-web soups soups-web meatless-beans meatless-pasta meatless-rice meatless-soups meatless-soy meatless-vegetable meatless-web
chinese indian italian korean mexican middle-eastern spanish tips
spring summer fall winter

To edit this wiki, make sure you are signed in and then click "edit" at the bottom of the page.

To create a link to another page, copy and paste this code into the editable window:

[[[page-title| Link Text]]]

If the final link appears in blue, you have correctly established a link.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License