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March 5, 2014

Eggplant rolls a lighter take on a classic

I’ve always been a big fan of eggplant Parmesan. There are a bunch of ways to make this classic Italian dish, but I’m partial to what you might call the full-fat version: thick slices of breaded eggplant that are sauteed, then baked until creamy, and finally topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese.

A vegetarian delight, eggplant Parmesan nonetheless can be very heavy. You gobble it down with gusto for dinner, but discover it still sitting in your gut like a brick the next day. So I wanted to concoct a lighter recipe that still retained all of the ingredients that make my favorite version so wonderful.

Eggplant tends to soak up oil like a sponge, so the first thing I did here was to take a cue from my mom. She used to make an easy but inventive side dish with eggplant, cutting each one into 1/2-inch slices, brushing every slice with her homemade vinaigrette, then baking them all until they were tender and golden. This limits how much oil they can absorb. For simplicity, I sprayed each slice with a modest amount of oil before baking them.

Unfortunately, this clever strategy created a new problem. The eggplant in my favorite version is breaded. Here, it isn’t. I was happy to lose the oil, but I didn’t want to lose the bread, particularly in a saucy dish like this. So I literally turned the recipe inside-out, placing the bread — in the form of croutons — inside the rolled-up slices of eggplant.

The croutons do get tender during baking, but they also absorb and marry the other flavors in the filling: Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese and roasted red pepper. Full disclosure: I’m well aware that roasted red peppers are not typical of traditional eggplant Parmesans. I added them because they contribute bulk and good nutrition. And because I love the tang they lend the dish.

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