Pan-Fried Eggplant with Tomato Sauce is a family recipe from Naples! Thin eggplant planks are fried in oil and layered with Parmesan cheese, sauce, and basil. Eat them at room temperature or chilled and try them in a sandwich!
No, this is not Eggplant Parmigiana.
There's no flour, eggs, bread crumbs or mozzarella here. Just plain eggplants fried in oil, then layered with Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce and basil.
Delizioso! It's one of the best things in life.
My family refers to this dish as...wait for it..."eggplants in a dish."
But it's probably more helpful to refer to it as a "pan-fried eggplant recipe with tomato sauce."
No matter what you call it, you have to try this authentic Italian eggplant recipe from Naples!
Eggplants: It all starts with eggplants, of course. Make sure they're firm, glossy and not bruised.
Try to buy long, skinnier ones, if possible, because they'll have less seeds, which are bitter. Look for green stems, not brown.
Oil: We're using canola oil for pan frying the eggplants on the stove. It's best to use oil with a high smoke point for frying, so don't use olive oil here.
Tomato Sauce: This recipe also includes the ingredients for a light tomato sauce that's slightly sweet, thanks to onions and no garlic. But, feel free to use this marinara instead, if you already have it made.
Salt the eggplant to reduce bitterness
Salting the eggplants (sometimes called "sweating" eggplants), draws out moisture and reduces bitterness.
- Sprinkle salt on a layer of raw eggplant planks.
- Add more layers of salted eggplant as needed.
- Let the eggplants sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Use paper towels to wipe off the moisture and salt.
How to make pan-fried eggplant
See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for full instructions, but here's an overview.
- Heat 1 ¼ cups of oil in a frying pan.
- When the oil is sizzling, add a layer of eggplant planks.
- Fry each side until golden brown.
- Drain the eggplant on a platter lined with paper towels.
How to make the tomato sauce
You just need to sauté the chopped onion in olive oil, then add crushed tomatoes and seasonings. The sauce only needs to cook for about 15 minutes.
How to assemble the dish
- Line up some eggplant planks horizontally in a single layer on your dish or platter.
- Generously sprinkle on Parmesan cheese, dot with sauce and add a few basil leaves.
- Add another layer of eggplant in the opposite direction. Add some Parmesan, sauce and basil.
- Make more layers as needed. Garnish with basil.
How to serve it
But, make sure you have some crusty Italian bread to enjoy with it! You can tear off some bread to chase each bite or tuck the eggplants into a sandwich for the most glorious lunch or vegetarian dinner.
These are the real deal, folks! I hope you enjoy them!
Frequently asked questions
It's safe to eat eggplant skin, but it can have a tough texture if your eggplant is large. It's best to peel large eggplants, but if you use small ones, you can leave the skin on.
If you want to roast these, you must use a nonstick baking sheet (affiliate link), or the thin eggplants will stick. It doesn't work to grease a regular baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
Let the eggplants roast at 500 degrees F until brown, then spray on some oil to finish roasting, so they won't be soggy. They will taste almost as good as the pan-fried eggplant and will have less fat and calories.
Other eggplant recipes to try
- Baked Breaded Eggplant Slices
- Roasted Eggplant Dip
- Sicilian Caponata
- Eggplant Parmigiana
- 31 Italian Side Dishes
Pan-Fried Eggplant with Tomato Sauce
- 2 pounds eggplants
- salt (to sprinkle on & later wipe off)
- 1 ¼ cups canola oil (for frying)
- ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 9 fresh basil leaves
Tomato Sauce (or use ⅔ cup Marinara)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ⅔ cup chopped onion (from 1 small yellow or white onion)
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
Peel, Slice & Salt the Eggplants:
- Rinse the eggplants and pat them dry. Cut off the stem at the top and the root end at the bottom. Peel the eggplants by using a sharp knife to slice off the skin. (It's easiest to stand up the eggplants on a cutting board and then slice off a thin layer of skin from top to bottom.)
- Cut the eggplants in half the long way, then slice them into planks about ⅓-inch to ½-inch thick. If you have wide eggplants, cut the planks in half again the long way, so you end up with planks about 1 ¾-inch wide. If there are lots of seeds, remove some as best you can, because they will be bitter.
- To draw moisture out of the eggplants so they won't be bitter, soggy and absorb too much oil, place the eggplants in a colander that's resting in a sheet pan. Start with one layer of eggplants that will fit. Salt the eggplants, then add another layer of eggplants on top. Salt those as well. (Do as many layers as you need.) Weigh the eggplants down by placing a heavy pot on top of them. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to a few hours. Then, using paper towels, wipe the salt and moisture off the eggplants and blot them dry.
Prepare the Sauce:
- While the eggplants are sitting with salt, peel and chop a small onion. You should end up with about ⅔ cup.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet (or medium sauce pan if making more than one batch) on medium high. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft, around four minutes, stirring occasionally. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper; stir.
- When the sauce starts to boil, lower the temperature and loosely cover the pan with a lid, using a wooden spoon resting on the rim of the pan to keep the lid propped open.
- Cook on low, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.
Pan-Fry the Eggplants
- Pour 1 ¼ cups canola oil into a large frying pan. (The oil should be about ¼-inch high in your pan.) Heat the oil on medium high until it is hot enough to sizzle. When the oil is ready, place some eggplants in the pan in a single layer (fit as many as you can without overlapping.) Brown the eggplants on the first side, which may take around 4 minutes. Use a fork to lift each eggplant to check the bottom.
- When the first side is browned, flip it to cook on the other side. Check after a couple minutes to see if it is browned. Remove each plank after it is browned on both sides and let it drain on a paper-towel-lined platter. Continue frying the eggplants in batches until they are done (you might want to use two pans.)
Assemble the dish
- Blot the eggplants well with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Line up the eggplant planks horizontally in a single layer in a round or oblong platter, going all the way to the edges of the dish. Generously sprinkle on some Parmesan. Dot the eggplants with some sauce (just spoon some on here and there.) Then add a few basil leaves.
- Make another layer, this time in the opposite direction. Vertically line up the eggplants. Generously sprinkle with Parmesan, spoon on a little sauce and add basil. Continue making layers as needed, ending with some basil on top. You will end up with extra sauce.
Serving & Storage
- Serve the eggplants immediately, or let them sit at room temperature for up to two hours. Refrigerate leftovers, and eat them chilled or at room temperature within five days. The eggplants are excellent in a sandwich with crusty Italian bread.
- Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it.
- When buying eggplants, choose skinnier ones if possible. They should have fewer seeds, which are bitter. Make sure the eggplants are firm and not bruised. They should have green tops, not brown.
- If you prefer to leave on the eggplant skin, it's safe to eat it. However, the skin can have a tough texture if your eggplant is large. It's best to peel large eggplants.
- If you want to roast the eggplant planks instead of pan frying them, you must use a NONSTICK baking sheet (affiliate link). Simply greasing a regular baking sheet will result in the eggplant sticking to the pan. Do not use parchment paper, because the oven will be too hot for it (500 degrees F).
- To roast: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (allow 15 minutes for the oven to reach that temperature.) Spray a nonstick baking sheet with oil. Place the eggplant planks on the pan in a single layer. Roast the eggplants in the oven for 15 minutes on the first side (or until they are browned on the bottom. Do not let them burn.) Spray some oil on the eggplants and flip them over. Spray the other side of the eggplants and bake them for another 3-5 minutes, checking to see when they are browned on the bottom. When eggplants are browned, remove them to a paper-towel-lined platter.
(Recipe Source: Adapted from my Mom's version of a family recipe from Naples. Originally published on October 27, 2014 and updated now with new photos and additional text.)