This fabulous grilled eggplant Parmesan is my take on the traditional “eggplant Parm,” a staple of red-sauce Italian joints. It’s a revelation. Forget about the heavy, greasy eggplant lost in deep-fried breading. Here it’s grilled to a softly charred beauty and layered with melted cheese, seasoned bread crumbs, and a delicate tomato sauce. This recipe began as an attempt to convert my husband, who was scarred as a youth when forced to eat eggplant at its slimy, viscous, undercooked worst. As a result, he refers to eggplant as the organ meat of vegetables. Not fair. Whenever he’s out, I cook eggplant!–Lucinda Scala Quinn
LC Darn Good Thing Note
This grilled eggplant Parmesan recipe isn’t exactly traditional. With all due respect to Nonnas everywhere, we consider that to be a darn good thing.
Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
For the tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes pulsed in a blender until just sorta semichunky
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 sprig basil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter (optional)
For the grilled eggplant Parmesan
- 2 1/2 pounds eggplants (about 2) sliced into 1/3-inch-thick (8 mm) rounds (24 slices total)
- 1/3 cup plus 1/2 to 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 cup finely ground dried bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped oregano leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
- 3 cups tomato sauce (see preceding recipe)
- 1 (1-pound) ball fresh mozzarella halved and sliced crosswise into 1/4- inch-thick half-moons (24 slices total)
Make the tomato sauce
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and tilt to swirl so it coats the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. You want to cook the garlic just long enough so it releases its fragrance but not so long that it turns golden.
- Stir in the tomatoes and the salt, crank the heat to high, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until the sauce is slightly reduced and deep red in color. Add the basil sprig, if using, for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove the basil before serving and swirl in the butter, if desired.
Make the grilled eggplant Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.
- Brush the eggplant rounds on both sides with 1/3 cup olive oil and season with the salt. Working in batches, place the eggplant on the grill rack or in the grill pan and cook, flipping once, until charred and softened, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer the eggplant to a platter, cutting board, or baking sheet.
- Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, pepper, herbs, and the remaining 1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium bowl.
- Place 8 slices grilled eggplant flat on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Top each with 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato sauce (the more tomato sauce you use, the more likely the stacks will be to slip and slide), 1/2 to 1 tablespoon bread crumb mixture, and 1 slice mozzarella. Repeat to make 2 more layers.
- Bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This grilled eggplant Parmesan recipe is a really easy way to make eggplant Parmesan. The recipe eliminated several steps that I usually include when making the classic eggplant Parmesan. It also eliminates some of the fat in the dish by grilling the eggplant rather than frying it. I was a little concerned that the eggplant rounds weren’t salted and drained before they were grilled, as I’ve always done this to remove some of the bitter liquid from the eggplant, but I didn’t see a difference in the final results. I used 2 eggplants that weighed just over 2 pounds. I got 36 rounds, cutting the rounds 1/3 inch thick, therefore, I was able to make 12 stacks. I think this recipe would serve 8 to 12 as an appetizer or 6 as a main course.
Eggplant Parmesan made with breaded and fried eggplant is fine, but this grilled eggplant Parmesan recipe is so much better, you’ll never go back. Not only do you save the steps of breading and frying—and the ensuing mess—but you gain the terrific flavor of eggplant on the grill. Eggplant absorbs smoke almost as readily as it absorbs oil, so if you can do this over lump charcoal with a few soaked wood chips sprinkled in, you’re in for a treat. The accompanying sauce was simple and delicious—it really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this. Since I’ve been playing around with cheesemaking, I used homemade, raw milk mozzarella. Which is great, but a fresh mozzarella from the store will also be great. I have to say, I’ve made a recipe very similar to this with ricotta instead of mozzarella and it was really good, so if you have really good ricotta, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it here. My eggplants were exactly the size recommended (that is, 1 1/4 pounds per eggplant), and I got about 12 slices per eggplant. The cooking time for the eggplant will work if you have your grill temperature pretty low, say 350° to 400°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you want to be able to hold your hand about an inch above the surface and count out 5 seconds (1 alligator, 2 alligator, etc) before your hand gets so hot you have to pull it away. If your grill is hotter than this (and most people tend to grill hotter this), you will need to check your eggplant sooner to make sure it doesn’t burn. With 3 slices per stack (I put the smaller-diameter ones on top), that would yield 8 servings from 2 eggplants.
I’ve been trying to reduce my animal protein intake, so I decided to try making a vegan version of this grilled eggplant Parmesan recipe and am so glad to say it worked beautifully. (I’m sure that fresh regular mozzarella would be even better than the vegan homemade version that I’m still trying to perfect.) This is an ideal recipe for those who aren’t fans of eggplant, as the end result has a taste closer to a meaty mushroom, such as a portobello, than to an eggplant. When buying the eggplant, make sure to find ones that do not narrow too much on one end, or you’ll end up with a pyramid type of shape when you start stacking them. I started with the larger pieces on the bottom and kept on stacking them as they became smaller. While grilling the eggplants in a grill pan, I had to do them in 3 batches, and it took about 10 minutes for each batch. I used gluten-free breadcrumbs and the vegan version of mozzarella and Parmesan. (I used the vegan version Go Veggie!) I would go lightly on the salt as the “cheeses” already have their own salt. Each stack ends up being more than an appetizer. I think you could easily serve this along with some white rice and you have a meal.
I love eggplant Parmesan, especially when there’s no frying involved. Such is the case with this recipe. Although I was halving the recipe, I made the entire amount of tomato sauce, which ended up being a good thing. My eggplant weighed almost 1 1/2 pounds and yielded nearly 2 dozen 1/3-inch-thick slices. Because of the lateness of the evening, I used a double-burner grill pan to grill the eggplant slices. I had to do that in 3 batches. I liked the way that the stacks cooked on the parchment paper. The juices and cheese that oozed out caramelized nicely on the parchment, and scraping it all up at the end was an added treat. After I assembled the eggplant stacks, I took the extra eggplant and sauce, along with more mozzarella, and layered what was left in a small ceramic dish. This baked up beautifully the next day.
When my mother reached for the deep purple, oblong “garden egg” at the vegetable stand under the Brooklyn El train, we knew our fate—eggplant Parm for dinner. Ugh. As a kid, this was not my favorite thing. Her family recipe called for each piece to be individually breaded and fried and then layered with sauce and mozzarella. I mostly excavated the casserole for its breading, cheese and sauce, pushing the vegetable into a slightly oily, slightly slimy pile at the farthest reaches of my plate. When I met my husband, though, I perpetuated the recipe and prepared it for him because I had somehow developed a taste for it. One day, while planning dinner, I suggested it again as an option. He looked at me seriously and said ” Jo, ya know, I’m not a fan.” Shocking that he had been eating it for 3 years and never made mention! That’s how I knew he loved me. We took a 9-year break from the dish until this recipe passed across my screen. Hmmm. Would grilling eggplant solve the basic problems of this traditional Italian-American dish? Yes friends, problems solved. And let us rejoice as eggplant Parm is now lighter, more modern, simplified, and husband approved. Cutting the eggplant should be done by dividing the eggplants into halves, then quarters and slicing each quarter into three even slices. This makes it easy to get 12 slices per vegetable. Use the same approach to slice the cheese, but be warned it is a little harder to cut the cheese to this yield (watch those fingers). I was able to grill all 24 slices in 3 batches. All in all, I am so happy that someone improved on an old favorite in a way that still tastes like mom’s.
These were little stacks of cheesy eggplant fun! I realized when it was too late that we didn’t have any propane left in our grill, so I ended up using our panini grill for the eggplant slices. It worked out very well. Although I had to do 5 batches for 25 slices eggplant, it took only 7 minutes per batch. Assembly of the stacks afterwards was a cinch. Slicing the mozzarella was a little tricky for me, but I managed to get nearly 24 slices out of my 1 pound ball. The tomato sauce recipe made exactly enough sauce for the recipe and had the right amount of herbs. Some changes I might make next time include baking the stacks in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish to catch all the juices and using a jarred marinara if there’s not time to put together the quick tomato sauce.
Originally published August 12, 2014