Total time:50 minutes
I love eggplant parmesan. But as someone who believes almost everything is better on bread, what I’m really looking for are eggplant parmesan cheese sandwiches. Take me to a delicatessen or Italian sub-boutique and it’s the first thing I’ll look for on the menu.
Now I know I can satisfy that craving at home, thanks to these Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches. They’re sassy, cheesy, and messy in the best possible way — my kind of comfort. And for those interested in small-scale recipes, this one is designed for two people.
I started with a loose frame from the no-fry eggplant parmesan recipe I shared a few years ago, namely the no-fry part. The grill is ideal for turning chewy eggplant slices into silky perfection in no time, with very little effort. Unlike the casserole, where I cover the dish with a crispy layer of panko breadcrumbs, I thought I might miss the breaded eggplant here. I decided to see if I could accomplish this in a more streamlined format without going back to the pan and the dreaded multi-step (often flour, egg, breadcrumbs) dredging process.
This recipe has everything you want in Eggplant Parm, minus the frying
The answer was yes. Turns out you can get a pretty good facsimile of pan frying by grilling breaded eggplant slices on a well-oiled baking sheet. Plus, you can make it all in one batch because the pan easily holds one sliced eggplant, the perfect amount for two sandwiches. Please feel free to the amount of oil I recommend for the pan. It’s crucial to help prevent sticking and nearly frying the eggplant – you’ll see it bubble up, resulting in a nice golden crust. Take comfort in the fact that it won’t all be absorbed (and that it’s probably just the occasional dinner party!).
I also realized that, at least for this dish, you don’t need to coat the eggplant with multiple ingredients, because it comes out of the oven from its first grilling moist enough to encourage the breadcrumb mixture to stick . And don’t worry if your breading isn’t perfect. After all, we pile them in a roll with cheese and gravy, and as long as you get the flavor and modest crunch from the crumbs, the appearance is questionable.
How to use the grill to light up your home cooking
The other benefit of the mental gymnastics of working out the oven fry method was that it freed up the cook for a quick tomato sauce. Made with canned crushed tomatoes, a staple in my pantry, it comes together in about 10 minutes. It’s just the right balance of sweet and tart, rich and crisp.
In keeping with the architecture of eggplant parmesan, I build the sandwich in layers – bread, sauce, eggplant, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggplant, sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, bread. I save the grill for one last round, melting the mozzarella or provolone into a gooey blanket that brings it all together.
Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches
Want to jazz it up or tweak the recipe to suit your needs? In the spirit of our Eat Voraciously by Daniela Galarza newsletter, here are some suggestions:
- Swap out your favorite non-dairy cheeses to make the recipe vegan. Or skip the cheese entirely.
- Use canned diced tomatoes for a fresher, more rustic sauce.
- Don’t want breadcrumbs? It’s easy to jump. After 10 minutes of grilling on the first side, flip the eggplant over and grill for another 2 or 3 minutes, until the second side is lightly browned and the slices are tender.
- Add a garlic bread component by brushing the sliced buns with oil, then toasting them until golden brown under the broiler. Rub a halved clove of garlic over the entire surface of the toasted bread. You will taste the difference. (See VARIATION below.)
- Pile spicy pickled peppers into the sandwich for extra heat.
- Turn it into a mini eggplant parma by layering the eggplant and sauce in a small baking dish. As with the sandwiches, top with mozzarella and broil (assuming your dish is safe for the grill) until melted and bubbly.
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- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
- 1 medium eggplant (1 pound), trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
- Pinch of fine salt
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup fine Italian breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- One can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt, more if needed
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Granulated sugar, to taste
- 2 sub or hoagie buns, halved lengthwise and toasted
- 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided (can substitute for a vegan alternative)
- Two (1 ounce) slices of mozzarella or provolone (can substitute for a vegan alternative)
Prepare the eggplant: place a rack 4 or 6 inches from the grill and preheat (use the high setting, if you have the option). Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, spreading it evenly with a brush. Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheet, rubbing them over the pan to make sure they are coated fairly well with the oil. Season eggplant lightly with salt and pepper, turn and repeat with seasoning and rub in oil. If the pan and the bottom of the eggplants seem dry, add a little oil.
Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning foil back and forth halfway through cooking, until eggplant is tender and lightly browned in spots. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the eggplant to a plate. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons more oil.
Prepare the sauce: While the eggplants cook, start the sauce. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until simmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes, if using, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a light bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened somewhat and smells strong, about 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt and sugar to taste, starting with a pinch, until you reach your preferred flavor balance. Remove from heat and set aside for assembly; you should have about 1 cup.
Back to the Eggplant: Combine Italian breadcrumbs and panko in a large, shallow dish, such as a pie plate, with a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring until combined. Dip each slice in breadcrumb mixture, pressing into eggplant to adhere. Go back once. You can pile a little more on top, although it doesn’t seem to stick – it will brown nicely and stay put once it’s toasted. As you work, transfer the slices to the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the top of the eggplant; if you run out, use a little more as needed.
Still on high heat, grill eggplant until rich, golden and bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. The coating should also be a little crispy, but don’t expect it to be exactly like pan-fried eggplant. Flip the slices and broil again until golden brown, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a plate if you plan to use the baking sheet for assembly, below.
Assemble the sandwiches: On a baking sheet or baking dish, spread 1/4 cup of sauce on the bottom half of each roll. (Feel free to use less if you want your sandwich less crispy. Any extra sauce is great for dipping or as a pizza topping.) Put a quarter of the eggplant on each sauce roll, 3-4 slices . Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano over each sandwich, followed by another layer with the remaining eggplant, another 1/4 cup of sauce and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Tear each slice of mozzarella or provolone in half and arrange the pieces on the sandwiches, covering as much of the sauce as possible.
Place the open sandwiches under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from the oven and finish the sandwiches with the top halves of the rolls. Cut in half and serve.
VARIATION: Cut the rolls into slices and brush the insides with olive oil. Grill over high heat, cut side up, until bread is golden brown and crispy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub the grilled surfaces with a clove of garlic. Then assemble the sandwiches as shown above.
The ingredients are too variable for meaningful analysis, due to the amount of olive oil that can be used and absorbed.
From Voraciously editor Becky Krystal.
Tested by Becky Crystal; questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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