Monday, August 13, 2012

Healthier Eggplant Parmesan

Healthier eggplant parm, made with grilled eggplant
I adore a good eggplant Parmesan, but traditional recipes are loaded with fat from the cheese AND from the breaded and fried eggplant slices. The breading also adds carbohydrates and extra calories, AND can also create unpleasant sogginess and greasiness if the eggplant wasn't properly fried.

My healthier eggplant parm recipe calls for some changes that don't sacrifice flavor or texture: All-natural, lower-fat, part-skim mozzarella (not one of those "fake" fat-free substitutes) works just as well as full-fat, and a good-quality shredded Parmesan cheese allows you to cut back on quantity while preserving that distinctive salty-tangy taste. I also whip up a quick homemade tomato sauce instead of using a store-bought jar of pasta sauce, because those are often higher in sugar and may contain artificial or otherwise undesirable ingredients.

The biggest change from traditional recipes is that I grill the eggplant slices instead of breading and frying them. Not only does this cut back on fat, calories and carbs, but it also prevents greasiness, reduces the total time it takes to make the recipe, and gives the dish a richer eggplant flavor. I don't peel the eggplant because the peel helps keep the slices from falling apart (the grilled eggplant can be very tender) and grilling mellows the flavor. If you insist, you can peel the eggplant--just be very careful while grilling and handling the slices.

I used my George Foreman Grill to grill the eggplant slices, but you can certainly grill them outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill. If grilling outdoors, be sure to use medium, indirect heat, and keep an eye on the slices so as to not burn them. To prevent sticking, make sure your grate surface or vegetable grill basket is completely clean. Better yet, use GrillGrates on your grill to easily get perfectly cooked, beautifully seared eggplant slices without any sticking at all.

From start to finish, it took me no more than an hour (including baking time) to make this Healthier Eggplant Parmesan. I start the sauce first and let it simmer as I grill the eggplant. As soon as the eggplant is done, I assemble the dish and pop it in my preheated oven. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Seasoned eggplant slices on George Foreman Grill
For the tomato sauce:
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs minced shallot
1 tsp minced garlic
1/3 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups canned tomato sauce (I use organic)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 to 1 tsp Kosher salt (to taste)

For the eggplant:
1 large eggplant (approx. 1 1/2 lbs), cut into 1/2" thick rounds
Olive oil or olive oil spray
Ground black pepper
Dried oregano or Italian herb blend
1 8-oz package Part-Skim Mozzarella
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Start the sauce:  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then saute the shallot & garlic until soft and just beginning to caramelize. Deglaze with the red wine, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and very gently simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally (I recommend adding only 1/2 tsp of salt first, tasting for balance and then adding more salt if desired).

One layer assembled, one to go
Cook the eggplant:  While your grill preheats, arrange the eggplant slices on a plate or other large surface, lightly brush or spray with olive oil, and then liberally sprinkle with pepper and oregano or Italian herbs. Lightly pat the seasonings onto the slices, then flip over and repeat on other side. Place the oiled, seasoned eggplant slices on your grill over medium, indirect heat, cover and cook approximately 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until tender (if cooking on a George Foreman grill, oil the grill grates and cook at medium high without turning). When eggplant is done, carefully remove slices from grill and place on a plate or other flat surface.

Assemble the casserole: (I had enough grilled slices for two layers of eggplant. If your eggplant is larger, you may have enough for 3 layers; if so, adjust the following instructions accordingly.) Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon about 1/3 of the sauce onto the bottom of a square 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" casserole dish. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices, then spoon another 1/3 of sauce on top and sprinkle with half of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Repeat with another layer of eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella & parm cheese. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and turning golden brown. Remove from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then slice and serve.

Zestfully yours,

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