Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Saucy, cheesy, eggplant subs

Becky Krystal

THE WASHINGTON POST – In an effort to make our way through a massive freezer supply of meatballs that went in and then out of style with our son, my husband and I found ourselves eating a lot of meatball subs lately. As satisfying as these were, my mind kept flitting over to a close relative: Eggplant Parmesan.

I adore eggplant parmesan. But as someone who believes almost anything is better on bread, what I really pine for is eggplant parm sandwiches. Take me to an Italian deli or sub shop and it’s the first thing I’ll look for on the menu.

Now I know I can satisfy that craving at home, thanks to these Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches. They’re saucy, cheesy and messy in the best way possible – my kind of comfort. And for those interested in small-scale recipes, this one is designed for two people.

I started with a loose framework from the No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan recipe I shared a few years ago – namely, the no-fry part. The broiler is ideal for transforming rubbery eggplant slices into silken perfection in no time, with very little effort. Unlike the casserole, where I top the dish with a crunchy layer of panko breadcrumbs, I did think I might miss the breaded eggplant here. I decided to see whether I could accomplish that in a more streamlined format without going back to the skillet and the dreaded multistep dredging process (often flour, egg, breadcrumbs).

The answer was yes. Turns out you can get a pretty good facsimile of skillet-frying by broiling breaded eggplant slices on a well-oiled baking sheet. Also, you can do this all in a single batch, since the pan easily holds one sliced eggplant, the ideal amount for two sandwiches. Please don’t shy away from the amount of oil I recommend for the pan. It’s crucial to help prevent sticking and does almost fry the eggplant – you’ll see it bubbling away, which results in a beautiful golden crust. Take solace in the fact that not all of it will be absorbed.

Eggplant parmesan sandwiches. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Broil the eggplant until rich, golden brown and bubbling

I also realised that, at least for this dish, you don’t need to coat the eggplant in multiple ingredients, as it comes out of the oven from its first broiler stint moist enough to encourage the breadcrumb mixture to stick. And don’t fret if your breading is not picture-perfect. After all, we’re piling these in a roll with cheese and sauce, and as long as you get the flavour and modest crunch of the crumbs, the appearance is moot.

The other benefit of the mental gymnastics of working out the oven-fry method was that it freed up the stovetop for a quick tomato sauce. Made with canned crushed tomatoes, one of my pantry all-stars, it comes together in about 10 minutes. It’s just the right balance of sweet and tart, rich and bright.

In keeping with the architecture of eggplant parm, I build the sandwich in layers – bread, sauce, eggplant, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggplant, sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, bread. I keep the broiler for one last trick, melting the mozzarella or provolone into a gooey blanket that pulls the whole thing together.

These saucy, cheesy, satisfying sandwiches channel all the joy of eggplant parm into a handheld package, no skillet frying required. Instead, we use a generously oiled baking sheet to “oven fry” sliced eggplant under the broiler. That saves time and effort, plus it allows you to pull together a quick sauce on the stovetop using crushed tomatoes.

Want to jazz up or tweak the recipe to fit your needs? Here are a few suggestions:

– If you don’t want to bread the eggplant, skip that step. Flip the eggplant after broiling for 10 minutes, and then broil a few more minutes until fully cooked.

– Swap in your favourite non-dairy cheeses to make the recipe vegan. Or pass on the cheese entirely.

– Use canned diced tomatoes for a fresher-tasting, more rustic sauce.

– Add a garlic bread component by brushing the sliced rolls with oil, then toasting until golden under the broiler. Rub a halved clove of garlic all over the surface of the toasted bread. You’ll taste the difference.

– Stack some spicy pickled peppers into the sandwich for extra zing.

– Turn this into a mini eggplant parm by layering the eggplant and sauce in a small baking dish. As with the sandwiches, top with the mozzarella and broil (assuming your dish is broiler-safe) until melted and bubbling.

Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to one week.

Storage Notes: The sandwiches are best eaten right away, but you can refrigerate leftover eggplant in an airtight container for up to three days; reheat in a 350-degree oven until warm and slightly crisped. Use for more sandwiches or other dishes.

For the eggplant
– Six tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
– One medium eggplant, trimmed and sliced half-inch thick
– Pinch fine salt
– Pinch freshly ground black pepper
– Half cup fine Italian breadcrumbs
– Half cup panko breadcrumbs

For the sauce
– One tablespoon olive oil
– Two cloves garlic, thinly sliced
– One can crushed tomatoes
– Quarter teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed
– Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
– Granulated sugar, to taste

For assembly
– Two sub or hoagie rolls, halved lengthwise and toasted
– Two tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
– Two slices mozzarella or provolone

Make the eggplant
Position a rack four to six inches from the broiler and preheat (use the high setting, if you have an option). Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet with three tablespoons of the olive oil, spreading it evenly with a brush.

Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheet, rubbing them on the pan to make sure they’re fairly well-coated with the oil. Season the eggplant lightly with salt and pepper, flip and repeat with seasoning and rubbing them around in the oil. If the pan and bottoms of the eggplant are looking dry, add a bit more oil.

Broil for eight to 10 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back halfway through, until the eggplant is soft and lightly browned in spots. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the eggplant to a plate. Coat the pan with two tablespoons more oil.

Make the sauce
While the eggplant is cooking, start the sauce. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, 30 seconds to one minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes, if using, then reduce the heat to medium-low, maintaining a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened somewhat and smells robust, about 10 minutes.

Taste, and add more salt and sugar to taste, starting with a pinch, until you achieve your preferred flavour balance. Remove from the heat and reserve for assembly; you should have about one cup.

Return to the eggplant
Combine the Italian and panko breadcrumbs in a large, shallow dish, such as a pie plate, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring until uniform.

Dip each slice in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing it onto the eggplant to adhere. Flip once.

It’s okay to pile a little extra on top even if it doesn’t look like it’s going to stick – it will brown nicely and stay on once it’s broiled.

As you work, transfer the slices back to the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the top of the eggplant; if you run out, use a little more, as needed.

Still on high, broil the eggplant until rich, golden brown and bubbling, two to three minutes.

The coating should be somewhat crisp, too, though don’t expect it to be exactly like skillet-fried eggplant. Flip the slices and broil again until golden brown, another two to three minutes.

Transfer the eggplant to a plate if you plan to use the baking sheet for assembly, below.

Assemble the sandwiches
On a baking sheet or oven-safe plate, spread quarter cup of sauce on the bottom half of each roll. Shingle a quarter of the eggplant on top of each sauced roll, three to four slices.

Sprinkle one-and-a-half teaspoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano on each sandwich, followed by another layer with the remaining eggplant, another quarter cup sauce and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Tear each slice of mozzarella or provolone in half and arrange the pieces on top of the sandwiches, covering as much of the sauce as possible.

Place the open-face sandwiches under the broiler for one to two minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and finish the sandwiches with the top halves of the rolls. Cut in half and serve.