Recipe Review

I Tried Serious Eats’ Italian-Style Eggplant Parmesan and Did Not Expect These Results

updated Jul 27, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Years ago, when I was studying abroad in Florence, I traveled south to the seaside town of Sorrento, near Naples, to visit my friend’s family. Of all the incredible food her family cooked for us, it’s the eggplant Parmesan I remember most. Honestly, I didn’t expect to eat eggplant Parm in Italy: I’d wrongly assumed it was an Italian-American dish. But while its exact origins are unknown, both Sicily and Naples claim the dish as their own — and each make it a touch differently. In Sorrento, I tasted the Neapolitan version, which features layers of fried, unbreaded eggplant, tomato sauce, and local fresh mozzarella cheese.

When it came time to battle off four popular eggplant Parmesan recipes, I knew I needed to include Serious Eats’ version, which comes from a true Neapolitan and looked most similar to what I had tasted all those years ago. Would it transport me back to southern Italy? I had to find out.

Get the recipe: Italian-Style Eggplant Parmesan (Melanzane alla Parmigiana)

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Serious Eats’ Italian-Style Eggplant Parmesan

Serious Eats’ eggplant Parm recipe was the easiest of all the ones I tested. To make it, you’ll slice eggplant thinly (no need to peel it), then fry it in olive or vegetable oil until golden-brown. Transfer it to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle it with salt.

Next, you’ll layer the fried eggplant with tomato sauce (either your favorite jarred sauce or simply canned tomatoes puréed with a bit of olive oil and salt, which I opted for), shredded or torn fresh mozzarella, and fresh oregano leaves. You’ll then bake it for 20 minutes, until it’s bubbling and browned on top.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Serious Eats’ Italian-Style Eggplant Parm

Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t live up to my expectations. While I loved the flavor of the milky cheese, fresh herbs, and vibrantly simple sauce, the texture was a complete disaster.

The trouble began during frying: the eggplant, which was fried unbreaded and unsalted, soaked up way too much oil. I tried to save it by blotting it with paper towels, but it didn’t help much. Unfortunately, the oil-logged eggplant ultimately made for a greasy casserole.

In addition to the grease, the water from the fresh mozzarella leaked into the dish as it baked, and even after the recommended 10-minute rest to reabsorb any excess liquid, it was still very wet. It was nearly impossible to slice and scoop up cleanly.

While this recipe gets high marks for clean flavor (unlike other variations, it isn’t weighed down with breadcrumbs or excess cheese), the presentation and texture suffered too much to make it a favorite.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You’re Making Serious Eats’ Eggplant Parmesan, a Few Tips

  1. Salt the eggplant. Take a tip from Food52’s eggplant Parm and salt and drain the eggplant slices before frying. This will prevent them from absorbing too much oil.
  2. Keep the sauce simple. I tossed a can of whole peeled tomatoes in a blender with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, and its clean flavor worked nicely in this simplistic dish. A few cloves of garlic or a pinch of red pepper flakes would work well, too, without being too distracting.
  3. Don’t assemble ahead of time. While many eggplant Parm recipes can be assembled and refrigerated to be baked later, this isn’t one of them. The fresh mozzarella immediately begins to release its liquid, so the longer it sits without baking, the wetter it will be. If you want to make it in advance, bake it fully and reheat it later.
  4. Don’t skip the resting time. Most eggplant Parmesans benefit from resting for at least 10 minutes (if not 20) to allow everything to set and make slicing easier. This one definitely needs all the time you can give it for some of the liquid to reabsorb.

    Rating: 6.5/10

    Have you ever made Serious Eats’ Italian-style eggplant Parmesan recipe? Tell us what you thought!
Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn