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!
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.