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Giada's Essential Italian Dishes: Eggplant Parmesan

Everything you need to know to master a no-stress version of this vegetarian crowd-pleaser


Every cuisine has its core recipes, the fundamental dishes and techniques that set it apart from the rest of the world. I'm breaking down my 10 essential Italian dishes, sharing everything you need to know to master them and become a superstar Italian cook.
Eggplant Parm
What It Is: An icon of Italian cucina povera (the "kitchen of the poor"), meaty slices of fried eggplant are layered with a simple tomato sauce and lots of cheese for this filling vegetarian casserole. It became popular in Southern Italy in the 1800s, where eggplants are grown in abundance. When Italians began emigrating to America, eggplant parm came with them, where the dish evolved to include chicken and veal variations. You won't see those in Italy!
Why I Love It: Done well, eggplant parm is an irresistible blend of textures, but many people have memories of soggy, mushy, bland versions that scare them away from making it at home. And while purists might argue with my non-traditional recipe, my family has always used this foolproof method that takes all the stress out of the equation, ever since I was a little kid. You get perfectly crisp eggplant, rich sauce, and chewy, gooey cheese every time.
How It's Done: Japanese eggplants are less bitter and have a thinner skin than traditional globe eggplants, making them much easier to cook with. (And their mini size makes them extra cute!) Whisking up egg whites incorporates lots of air into the breading process, resulting in a light, crunchy coating that doesn't get thick or stodgy. Once the eggplant is fried, lay the slices out on a baking sheet instead of layering them in a casserole, allowing for lots of air circulation to keep the edges crisp. Dollop a quick-simmered tomato sauce on the slices, then top with a blend of mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. Pop under the broiler for a minute or two to melt the cheese, and get ready to wow your guests!

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