3 eggplants (about 3 pounds total weight) and salt for preparation
For the Sauce
2-1/2 pounds very ripe, vine-ripened plum tomatoes, cut into quarters; or 1 can (28 ounces) plum tomatoes in puree, roughly chopped, or 2 cans (2-8 ounces) plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly milled white or black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
Freshly milled white or black pepper
Safflower oil-for frying
Unsalted butter for greasing baking dish
Lightly toasted fine dried bread crumbs for coating baking dish
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced or shredded
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano
Cut the stems and navels Off the eggplants and cut them crosswise into rounds !/4 inch thick. Sprinkle each slice lightly with salt. Place the rounds in a colander, standing them upright so the bitter liquid from the seeds drains mutes. off easily, about 40 minutes.
For the tomato sauce:
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, put the tomatoes in a saucepan. Cook uncovered over gentle beat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 40 minutes. If you see that the tomatoes give off a great deal of water, drain off excess liquid as they cook. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the attachment with the largest holes to get a smooth purge and pressing to get as much of the pulp as you can through the holes. If the purse is too thin to be a good sauce consistency (this will depend upon the texture and water content of the tomatoes), return it to a saucepan and simmer gently for up to 20 minutes longer. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Place a large sheet of waxed paper on the kitchen counter. Pour the flour into it and then season the flour with salt and pepper to taste. Use a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to blot the salt and sweat from the eggplant.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, pour in oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat the oil until it is hot enough to make the eggplant sizzle. As soon as the oil is hot enough, but not before, dredge several eggplant slices in the flour, shake off the excess flour, and slip them into the hot oil. Fry on both sides, turning once, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes total cooking time. Remove to paper towels to drain well. Fry the remaining slices, dredging them only when you are ready to fry them.
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 10 x 14 inch baking dish and coat it with the crumbs, shaking out any excess. (A smaller baking dish will do just fine, but it will result in a smaller casserole with a greater number of layers. I prefer to use a dish that will result in fewer layers.) Before placing each slice of eggplant in the dish, blot it with fresh paper towels once.
Place a layer of eggplant in the dish, a little of the sauce, some of the chopped basil, then a layer of mozzarella, and finally a sprinkling of parmigiano. Continue layering the ingredients in this order, ending with a layer of eggplant smeared with sauce and sprinkled with parmigiano and the remaining basil (the green of the basil makes the dish exceptionally pretty).
Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminum foil and slide it onto the top rack of the oven. Bake until bubbly, about 20 Minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to settle for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Make Ahead Note: The sauce can be made 2. or 3 days in advance. Although the dish is best when freshly made, it can be assembled and refrigerated the day before, and then baked before serving. Alternatively, bake the dish a day in advance, cover and refrigerate; the next day reheat in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 20 minutes.
Posted: 10/23/2012 3:53:00 PM