Rey Vakili's Cheesy Eggplant Parmigiana With Tomato and Basil

Welcome to Put on a Spread, a recipe series that takes you inside the kitchens – and dining rooms – of some of our favorite home cooks. For this instalment, Sydney-based home cook Rey Vakili shares her recipe for a vegetarian eggplant parmigiana. 

Eggplant parmigiana is one of the most iconic dishes in Southern Italy. This vegetarian delight is hearty, simple to make, and one of Rey's ultimate comfort foods. It can be thought of as a pasta-free lasagne made with thin slices of eggplant instead of layers of pasta. 

There are only three main components to this recipe; the eggplant, the layers, and the tomato sauce, all of which can be pre-prepared so that when guests arrive all you need to do is assemble it and pop it in the oven. 

Generous amounts of parmesan and fresh buffalo mozzarella are used to make this dish extra tasty and creamy, and panko breadcrumbs bring a beautiful crispy texture to the recipe. The overall richness is sure to impress even the meat lovers.

Ingredients

  • 700g tomato passata 
  • Olive oil for frying 
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • A few leaves of fresh oregano
  • A few leaves of fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 red chillies
  • 3 large eggplants
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 1 or 2 balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. 

To begin, prepare your eggplant layers. Thinly slice your eggplant into round disks (about ½ cm thick). 

Salt eggplant on both sides, lay flat on a tea towel on the kitchen bench, and leave to sweat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This will assist with frying and will remove any bitterness from the eggplant. Rinse and dab dry. 

Meanwhile, prepare your tomato sauce. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add your diced onion. Sauté for 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent and soft. 

Add your tomato passata to the pot. Add some water to your passata jar and shake to get all the tomato sauce from the sides, pour into the pot. 

Add fresh basil, fresh oregano leaves, a pinch of salt, and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes. Set aside.

To prepare your breadcrumb layers, add panko breadcrumbs, ¾ cup parmesan cheese, garlic, dried oregano, chillies and salt to a small mixing bowl. Toss together.

Heat a decent amount of olive oil in a non-stick wok (oil should rise about 2cm). Using tongs, gently add 4 or 5 disks of eggplant to hot oil (be careful not to splatter!) and fry for about 2 minutes on each side until a light golden colour. The eggplant will continue to cook in the oven so don’t worry if some are a bit lighter than others. Continue until all eggplant is cooked.

Drain on kitchen paper to remove any excess oil.

To assemble the parmigiana, smother a thin layer of your tomato sauce on the base of your baking dish. Make sure you go all the way out to the edges as this will prevent your eggplant from sticking to the base. 

Add one layer of fried eggplant disks until they cover the base of your baking dish. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce on top of the eggplant, using the back of a spoon to spread your sauce. 

Now sprinkle your cheesy breadcrumb mixture over the top till it lightly covers the whole layer. If you like your eggplant parmigiana extra cheesy, grate some more parmesan here. 

Repeat adding another layer of eggplant, tomato sauce and cheesy breadcrumb mixture until all your eggplant has been used up. This recipe should allow you to make three to four layers depending on how big your eggplants are. 

Top with an extra sprinkle of parmesan cheese and torn mozzarella chunks.

Bake in oven for 40 minutes. The top will turn a beautiful golden brown and your mozzarella balls will have melted completely. 

Allow the dish to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, and top with more fresh basil before serving. 

Shop Rey's look with our Terracotta TableclothTerracotta & Rust Scalloped Placemats, Terracotta & Rust Scalloped Napkins, Bed Threads Ceramic Dinner PlatesLove Ally x Bed Threads Wave Candles in Terracotta & Rust.

For more from Rey, follow her at @reyvakili

Photography by Alisha Gore, Styling by Audrey Won.

Hungry for more? Explore more recipes from our favourite home cooks here. 

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