Not only is this eggplant Parmesan gluten-free, it’s also one of the best you’ll ever taste and easiest you’ll ever make. Why? Because there’s no coating with bread crumbs or frying. And without all the gluten gumming up the sauce, the dish has a concentrated, rich flavor.
This gluten-free eggplant Parmesan is just as rich, cheesy, and scrumptious as any gluten-full rendition we’ve had. Even better, it takes less fuss and makes less of a mess since the recipe roasts, rather than fries, the eggplant. The result is a deeply concentrated eggplant flavor that stands up to being baked with homemade marinara and two cheeses until knee-wobblingly bubbly and golden brown. It may just usurp your usual eggplant Parmesan recipe.–Angie Zoobkoff
Gluten-Free Eggplant Parmesan
For the tomato sauce
- 1 carrot finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk roughly chopped
- 1 white onion roughly chopped
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds, 3 ounces fresh cherry tomatoes or fresh tomatoes on the vine OR 2 pounds, 10 ounces (1.2 kg) canned whole plum tomatoes, undrained
- 1 sprig basil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or more to taste (optional)
For the gluten-free eggplant Parmesan
- 3 to 4 pounds eggplant* preferably slender Chinese eggplants
- 3 1/2 ounces (scant 1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 9 ounces fresh cow’s milk mozzarella drained and cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) cubes
- 3 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup) Parmesan finely grated
- 20 basil leaves
Make the tomato sauce
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Toss in the carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes (including a few of the stalks if using fresh tomatoes), basil, salt, and pepper to the saucepan, cover, and cook over medium heat. Stir frequently, bashing the tomatoes with a potato masher, a fork, or the back of a spoon to break them up. Bring to a boil, remove the lid, and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook the tomato sauce until thickened, 20 to 40 minutes.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary, adding a teaspoon or so of sugar if the tomato sauce tastes a touch too acidic. Remove and discard the basil and stalks, if using. If desired, use an immersion blender to blend the sauce to a smooth, velvety consistency. You should have about 4 1/4 cups tomato sauce.
Make the eggplant casserole
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Trim the ends from the eggplants. Cut each eggplant lengthways into slices or crosswise into circles that are 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. Brush the eggplant slices with the olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Place them in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender throughout and perhaps lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350ºF (180ºC).
- Pour 1/4 of the tomato sauce (about 1 cup) in an ovenproof 9-by-13-inch baking dish (23-by-33-cm) and layer with 1/4 of the eggplant slices. Top with 1/4 of the mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil leaves. Repeat 3 more times, finishing with the two cheeses. Bake in the oven until bubbly and golden, 45 to 50 minutes.
- Let your eggplant Parmesan cool slightly before scooping it and serving it and watching it disappear rather frighteningly quickly.
*What Kind Of Eggplant To Use?When we make this gluten-free eggplant Parmesan, we prefer to opt for Chinese eggplants, which are paler in color and more slender rather than the typical dark purple, oblong football-size eggplant at the grocery store for several reasons. Chinese eggplants tend to have super tender skin and are slightly less bitter than typical tough-skinned eggplants. This recipe doesn’t call for you to peel the eggplant or it to draw out any bitterness, which saves you a lot of time and fuss in the kitchen. If all you can find are typical eggplants, go ahead and use them here, but keep in mind if it has a relatively thick skin you may wish to peel it. And if you keep the peel on, if you’re cutting the eggplant lengthwise, discard the end slices that are mostly eggplant peel.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
You can’t go wrong with a classic eggplant Parmesan. I love trying different versions on the classic eggplant Parmigiana, but after trying this recipe I think my favorite way to prepare the eggplant is simply roasting it with olive oil and not dealing with a batter or breadcrumb mixture that needs to be fried.
There’s already enough richness, in my opinion, with both cheeses and the homemade marinara, so frying the eggplant in extra oil only adds another step. To me, the oil isn’t necessary for flavor. The recipe wasn’t overly cheesy which I like–it focused more on the yummy baked eggplant and sauce. I loved the idea of using whole basil leaves layered into the baked eggplant layers. A very pretty dish overall. I baked the layered dish for 45 minutes and it was perfectly bubbly and the cheese melted. The eggplant was super soft and fell apart when you cut it with your fork. I served the eggplant dish with some crusty garlic bread and a nice salad, but any sort of pasta would be nice, too. Anything to sop up that tasty sauce!
If you’ve never made a homemade marinara sauce, this is a lovely recipe to follow. Easy and very flavorful. I actually used two 28-ounce cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes in their juices. The only thing I added to the sauce before pureeing it with my immersion blender was 1/2 cup dry red wine—I just couldn’t help myself. I did use 1 teaspoon sugar in the sauce as well. I think if you use canned tomatoes, a bit of sugar is nice. After pureeing the sauce, I got more than I needed for the recipe itself, so I put the rest in the freezer for a future dish. Pure Italian decadence!
Tender eggplant, bubbly tomato sauce, gooey mozzarella, and nutty Parmesan—this gluten-free eggplant Parmesan is a tasty and very satisfying vegetarian main dish that only needs a loaf of bread to accompany it. All the flavors are nicely balanced—nothing overpowers the others—and the subtle eggplant flavor is well preserved.
Eggplants are not peeled for this recipe, so instead of the typical huge tough-skinned ones, I went for the Chinese eggplants (light purple and long—well over 10 inches in length and about 2 inches in diameter) for their super tender skin. They’re also creamier when cooked, in my opinion. I used 4 pounds eggplant and filled the baking dish comfortably, but 3 pounds would have been adequate for the amount of tomato sauce. It took 2 baking sheets to accommodate the eggplant slices for the initial baking.
If it works better your schedule, make the sauce and bake the eggplant slices one or two days ahead, and assemble and bake the dish on the day you are serving it.
Comfort food, for me, comes in the form of things just like this gluten-free eggplant Parmesan: warm sauce, gooey cheese, and the kind of flavor that makes you want to keep dipping into the dish for just a little more. Everyone agreed that it was delicious, which is rare in my house.
The tomato sauce was simple to put together and full of fresh tomato flavor despite my using a combination of canned roma tomatoes and baby roma tomatoes instead of on-the-vine tomatoes. I simmered it for 30 minutes, which produced a richly flavored, chunky sauce that gave the dish some texture and contrasted well against the soft eggplant and gooey cheese. I added about a teaspoon of sugar and that rounded the flavor out without making it sweet.
I preferred the approach of not breading and frying the eggplant as the flavors all seemed extremely fresh. After 45 minutes in the oven the dish was browned and bubbling, soft and cheesy with tender eggplant that was easy to slice with a fork. A great meatless meal! Crusty bread on the side would have been a nice addition to soak up the excess sauce.
This gluten-free eggplant Parmesan is a lighter version of one of the most familiar of Italian dishes. Simple and full of flavor, this is real comfort food.
I used the Italian variety of eggplant—a tear-dropped shaped, dark purple eggplant. Although the proportion of tomato sauce to eggplant seems at first to be inadequate, the eggplant throws off some liquid as it bakes and gives the dish the moisture that’s needed. It’s best eaten hot out of the oven to get the maximum flavor and consistency.
Originally published July 15, 2018