Four Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

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The roadside vegetable stand had gorgeous fresh eggplant for sale.  I brought three of those delectable beauties home with the plan for eggplant parmigiana.  Today was the day to spend some time in the kitchen.  This is not the dish for a quick weeknight meal after working all day.  This is a meal to enjoy preparing when you have time to prep the eggplant, make a slow-simmered tomato sauce and assemble all the cheesy layers of goodness.

Let's begin with prepping the eggplant.  For this recipe, I had three medium-sized eggplants.  Don't skip this step of preparation.  By allowing the eggplant time to give up some of their liquid, they will not be soggy after frying.

3 eggplants, ends trimmed and sliced 1/4" thickness
kosher salt.

Spread the slices of eggplant onto a rimmed baking sheet and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt. Put several layers of paper towels on top and weigh down with cast iron skillets.  This will eliminate a lot of their liquid.  Set aside while you make the sauce.

2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. fennel seeds
1 T. anchovy paste
2 T. dried Italian seasoning
2 (28 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes
1/2 - 3/4 cup water
1 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. sugar

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and peppers and cook 4 - 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add garlic, fennel seeds, anchovy paste, and Italian seasoning.  Again, stirring frequently, cook 3 - 4 minutes.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and water.  Add the salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, and sugar.  Lower heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer for 1 - 2 hours.  Stir frequently so that the sauce doesn't stick.  Add a little more water if the sauce gets too thick.  

While the sauce simmers, let's fry the eggplant!

You'll need three shallow pans (aluminum pie plates!) for your breading station.

#1 about 2 cups of self-rising flour
#2 2 or 3 eggs lightly beaten with 1 T. water
#3 3 cups (maybe a little more) Italian seasoned bread crumbs

In a large skillet, heat enough vegetable oil for a depth of about 1/2 inch.  

While the oil heats, bread the eggplant. Dip each slice into the flour and coat both sides. Then into the egg wash to coat sides, and then into the bread crumbs for both sides.  

Carefully place the breaded slices into the oil and when nicely browned, using tongs, flip the eggplant to cook the other side.  I place the cooked eggplant slices onto a wire rack over a baking sheet to rest so that the breading doesn't become soggy.  Continue with the breading and frying until all the eggplant slices are cooked.

For the filling for layer #1, you'll need the following:
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 - 3 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

For the filling for layer #2, you'll need the following:
2 cups Mozzarella "pearls"

For the filling for layer #3, you'll need the following:
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Spray a deep rectangular baking dish or lasagna pan with non-stick spray.

Ladle enough sauce into the bottom of the pan to completely cover.  Place one-third of the eggplant slices in a single layer on top of the sauce.

Now, add the ricotta cheese mixture, spreading evenly on top of the eggplant.  

Add another layer of sauce, another layer of eggplant, and the mozzarella pearls.

Time for another layer of sauce, the remaining eggplant slices, and top with the shredded mozzarella and grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of the mozzarella.

Cover pan with foil and place in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F.  Let bake for 35 minutes and remove from oven and remove the foil.  Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or so.  Place under the broiler for a few minutes to completely melt the mozzarella.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle with fresh basil just before serving.

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