In an effort to make our way through a massive supply of meatballs in a freezer that came in and then went out of fashion with our son, my husband and I have found ourselves eating a lot of meatball subs lately . As satisfying as they were, my mind kept turning to a close relative: eggplant parmesan.
I love eggplant parmesan. But as someone who believes that 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 and with very little effort. Unlike the casserole, where I cover the dish with a crisp 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.
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 do it all in one go, as the pan easily holds a 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 likely to be an 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 broiling period 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 look is questionable.
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 chopped tomatoes, one of my pantry stars, 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
These savory, cheesy, satisfying sandwiches channel all the joy of eggplant parmesan into a hand wrap, no frying pan required. Instead, we use a generously oiled baking sheet to “oven fry” eggplant slices under the broiler. It saves time and effort, plus it lets you make a quick sauce on the stovetop using chopped tomatoes.
Want to jazz it up or tweak the recipe to suit your needs? Here are some suggestions:
If you don’t want to bread the eggplant, skip this step. Flip the eggplant after grilling for 10 minutes, then grill for a few more minutes until cooked through.
Swap out your favorite non-dairy cheeses to make the recipe vegan. Or skip the cheese entirely.
Use canned chopped tomatoes for a fresher, more rustic sauce.
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 grill (assuming your dish is grill-friendly) until melted and bubbly.
Buildahead: Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
StorageRemarks: Sandwiches are best eaten right away, but leftover eggplant can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days; reheat in the oven at 180°C until warm and slightly crispy. Use it for more sandwiches or other dishes.
Total time: 50 mins
For the eggplant:
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1 medium aubergine (450 g), trimmed and cut into 1½ cm thick slices
Pinch of fine salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
70g fine Italian breadcrumbs
70g panko breadcrumbs
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 can (425g) chopped tomatoes
¼ 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 (30 g each) slices of mozzarella or provolone (can substitute for a vegan alternative)
Prepare the eggplant: place a rack 10-15 cm from the grill and preheat (use the high setting, if you can). 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 evenly coated in the oil. Lightly season the eggplants with salt and pepper, turn over and repeat the seasoning and rub them in the oil. If the pan and eggplant bottoms seem dry, add a little more oil.
Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the pan back and forth halfway through cooking, until the eggplant is tender and lightly browned in spots. Take the dish out of the oven and transfer the eggplant to a plate. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons more oil.
Prepare the sauce: while the eggplant is cooking, start the sauce. In a 30cm skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until simmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in chopped tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes, if using, then reduce heat to medium-low, maintaining a gentle simmer. 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 130g.
Back to 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 the breadcrumb mixture, pressing it onto the eggplant so it sticks. Go back once. You can put a little more on top, although it doesn’t seem to stick – it will brown nicely and stay put when 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 more as needed.
Still on high heat, grill eggplant until rich, golden and bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. The coating should also be a bit 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 ovenproof plate, spread 50 g 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 1½ tsp Parmigiano-Reggiano over each sandwich, followed by another layer with the remaining aubergine, another 50g 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: Slice the rolls and brush the inner sides 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 Washington Post