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Jonathan Benno’s Grandmother’s Eggplant Parmigiana


Hot dishes anchor lunch and after, including eggplant parmigiana. (Photo: Emily Chan)

This family recipe hearkens back to the warmth of Michelin-starred chef Jonathan Benno’s grandmother’s kitchen. In the summer, she used fresh tomatoes and eggplant plucked from the garden.  It remains his favorite dish.

The marinara sauce is always good to have on hand for a quick, easy weekday meal. It is the foundation for not only eggplant parmigiana but countless other Italian dishes.

Ingredients: 

Marinara Sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup Spanish onion, diced
2 whole garlic, pressed or minced
28 oz. canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed, and keep the tomato juice
1 piece of bay leaf
Salt and ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste
⅓ Tablespoon red wine vinegar
⅛ cup fresh basil, whole or roughly chopped

Eggplant Parmigiana:
Marinara Sauce (see above)
1 medium eggplant, sliced thin
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups canola oil for frying
½ cup AP flour for dredging the eggplant
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
⅔ cup shredded mozzarella

Recipe directions: 

Marinara Sauce:

Add olive oil to a heavy-bottom pot or pan – heat oil to temperature over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, constantly stirring to prevent browning. Add tomatoes and bay leaf. Cook on low flame for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in red wine vinegar and basil and allow to cool. You’ll end up with about 2 cups of marinara. You can store the sauce in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the eggplant parmigiana. It will keep for about five days.

Eggplant Parmigiana:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the eggplant into rounds. Lay the sliced eggplant on a sheet tray and lightly sprinkle salt all over the sliced eggplant. Let it sit for about 15-20 minutes. You will see tiny droplets of water on the eggplant; that is when you will know that all the bitterness has been extracted.

While eggplant is “sweating,” add canola oil in a deep sauté pan. Heat the oil to 350° F.

While the oil is heating, dab paper towels on the eggplant to remove the remaining bitter water. Dip the eggplant slices into the AP flour; make sure the slice is coated. Once coated, give it a tap to release the excess flour.

Fry the eggplant slices in the oil until golden brown on each side. Once golden brown, pull them out and place on paper towels. Repeat this process in batches to prevent overcrowding and until all the eggplant is fried.

Assemble the eggplant parmigiana in a small baking dish. Start with a layer of marinara on the bottom of the dish, then eggplant, then Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, followed by mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper.

Repeat this process until you get to the top of the baking dish. The last ingredient on top should be mozzarella.

Place the eggplant parmigiana in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or until it is golden brown on top and the sauce is bubbling. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 3-4 servings.

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