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Foodies Corner: How to Make the Perfect Eggplant Parmigiana

“Lovely, don’t you ever change…” you hear that classic Frank Sinatra song floating out from the Italian restaurant you are about to enter. “Keep that breathless charm…” It is a Sunday afternoon, you finished all of your homework that was holding you up, and you are about to enjoy an early dinner.

“Won’t you please arrange it? Cause I love you…” you make your way over to your table. “And just the way you look tonight…” and there it is, your favorite dish is on the table: eggplant parmigiana.

You finished your eggplant parmigiana, and it was so delicious, it was an almost life-altering experience. But there is just one issue plaguing your mind: how do I make it like that at home? Is there some sort of secret to it, like a SpongeBob Krabby Patty type formula? Do the stars have to align for it to come exactly right? Lucky for you, I talked to three of the best cooks I know, and with all of their tips combined, you will be able to make the best eggplant parmigiana you have ever tasted.

First, I needed to consult with an expert, so I talked to Vinny Falzone, an Italian culinary expert, who is a former co-owner of Tuscany Italian Market in Marlboro, New Jersey. We needed to start at the basics, the foundation of what this dish is made of: the eggplant. Produce is tricky—one needs to judge the color, size and feel of the vegetable they are planning to cook with before they should even consider putting it in the dish. Falzone said that he always, “tries to pick out smaller eggplants, because they have less seeds.”

Next, I asked my aunt’s mom, Rosalie Sciortino, who is originally from Sicily and had owned a pizzeria with her late husband for many years, how she makes her eggplant parmigiana. She said, “I always use Italian eggplant. It is smaller, rounder, and sweeter. It is also more tender, so it is perfect for this dish.” You can usually find Italian eggplant at your local Italian market or farmer’s market.

So, you found the right eggplant to cook with, so the next question is, should the eggplant be fried or baked? I heard a few different approaches from who I talked with. I asked my mom, Theresa Martini, how she prefers to make her eggplant, and she told me, “I prefer baked because it’s healthier, quicker, and easier to put together, it’s not greasy and it makes less of a mess.”

How does she make it baked? She first cuts the eggplant, then she dips it into two eggs that she beat, and from there, she coats each piece in seasoned bread crumbs, and bakes the pieces of eggplant before assembling it into the eggplant parmigiana.

On the other hand, Sciortino prefers frying her eggplant before assembling. “When you fry them, they come out tastier and more tender, and it does not dry the eggplant out,” she explained. To keep it from becoming too oily, though, she makes sure to put them into paper towels to soak some of the oil out. So, if you would like to make the dish slightly healthier and lighter, you can try baking it like my mom does; or if you would like to make it in a more traditional approach and more indulgent, frying it is the way to go.

As for the sauce, everyone I consulted uses their own homemade sauce in the dish. “It allows for you to determine how you want it to taste, if you want the sauce to be sweeter, spicier, it’s all up to you,” Falzone added.

Sciortino explained, “Homemade is always the best because it’s lighter and less acidic.” If you would like to make your own sauce, you just boil crushed tomatoes, they can be canned or you can crush them yourself, and then add salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you enjoy.

Finally, the dish would not be complete without cheese. Everyone came to the same consensus: sliced mozzarella and of course, grated Parmesan cheese are the perfect combination for this dish. “Both of the cheeses combined just have the best flavor,” my mom told me. “I always prefer using fresh mozzarella. I slice that up, layer that on top of the eggplant, and sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on top of that, and there you go,” Falzone said.

“The way the mozzarella melts allows for each bite to have an equal amount of cheese, and it adds a lot to the flavor of the dish,” Sciortino added.

And, there you go: next time you are walking out of that Italian restaurant on a Sunday afternoon, after finishing your eggplant parmigiana, you will most likely not have to come back because now you know how to make one in the comfort of your own home. Whether you choose to make it baked or fried, make your sauce spicier or sweeter, it will all come out delicious, because it will have your own personal touch. Oh! And one more thing I almost forgot: just make sure to put on some Frank Sinatra while you are cooking it, so it really feels like a proper evening at an Italian restaurant.