Prep 2 hrs
Cook 30 mins
We watched Bobby Flay's Ultimate Showdown and got inspired. Started with his recipe, checked a few other sources, did a little of my own thing -- not bad, not bad. Labor intensive, but amenable to spreading over a day or two, so minimal dinner time stress, really.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped (Mayan or Vidalia)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper
- 3 (28 ounce) cans tomatoes, any cut
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1⁄4 cup honey (to taste)
- 2 -3 medium eggplants, about 2
- 5 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- olive oil flavored cooking spray
- 1 lb whole milk mozzarella, grated
- 8 ounces romano cheese, grated
- 8 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thick
- 1⁄2 cup fresh basil leaf, sliced
- In a large deep saucepan, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, stem and quarter the red pepper, removing seeds and pith. Char under broiler or over gas flame until skin is bubbled and blackened, then enclose in a baggie, Rubbermaid, or foil until cool enough to handle. Slough off the skin and discard. Dice pepper and add, along with any liquid from the container, to onion and garlic.
- Add tomatoes, but do not stir. Add herbs and seasonings through red pepper flakes, until surface of tomatoes is covered in herbs. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, keeping a splatter guard across the top. After about an hour, remove bay leaf and reserve. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce in the pan OR cool to room temperature and puree in blender or food processor and then return to heat. Check seasoning, return bay leaf, add honey, and continue to simmer another hour or until sauce is reduced to about 8 cups. (Can be made a day in advance. Refrigerate until ready for assembly next day.).
- Remove tops from eggplants, peel, and slice into 1/2” thick rounds. Salt generously and allow to drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°. Spread breadcrumbs* across a large baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, turn the oven off, and let the bread crumbs sit in the oven for 30 minutes or until just dry. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 375°. (Can be made in advance. Once cool and dry, put crumbs into a ziploc, add the herbs, shake to combine, close, and leave at room temperature until needed. Lots of recipes call for mixing grated cheese in with the breadcrumbs, which sounds darned tasty, but would definitely necessitate refrigeration if made in advance.).
- *I had some stale homemade cheddar garlic bread from my bread machine. I used my food processor’s grater to make bulky “crumbs” which I toasted according to the recipe. Then I used my food processor’s blade to grind them much finer.
- Set up a dredging station: Put flour in a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix well. Whisk eggs in a second bowl. Put the dry crumbs in a third bowl and stir in the dried herbs. Cover two cooking sheets with foil and spray lightly with olive oil.
- Using a kitchen towel, wipe the salt from each slice of eggplant before placing into a fourth bowl. To minimize gunk, use one hand to move each eggplant slice into the flour, covering both sides and around the edges before shaking off any excess. Use the same hand to drop the floured eggplant into the egg. Now using the other hand, get the slice completely covered in egg, shake off excess, and drop the slice into the breadcrumbs. Scoop breadcrumbs over the top of the slice before turning it over and repeating. Shake off excess crumbs and place breaded slice onto the oiled cooking sheet. Repeat until all of the eggplant is breaded. Discard remaining flour, eggs, and crumbs.
- Spray tops of eggplant slices with olive oil and bake 20 minutes at 375° until golden brown. (Can be made in advance on the same day. Let the baked slices cool a bit and then transfer them into paper towel-lined ziplocs and refrigerate until an hour before dinner.).
- Raise oven temperature to 400°. Butter a 10 x 15 x 2 casserole dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of red sauce. Add a layer of eggplant, followed by 1/2 of the shredded cheeses, and another layer of red sauce. Repeat, ending with red sauce, and top with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. (Flay’s recipe calls for layering fresh basil leaves in assembly, which I totally forgot, so I just put some on top.) Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until bubbly and beginning to brown. (Allow more time if assembling refrigerated pre-cooked ingredients and sauce.) Let rest 5 - 10 minutes. Serve with remaining sauce alongside.