I have a ginormous cookbook collection. Not kidding. Remember that scene in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast ushers Belle into his grand library, with books from floor to ceiling? If not, here’s a refresher…
That is exactly what my office looks like.
Okay, not really. But I do have hundreds of cookbooks, many of them vintage and out-of-print. I’ve been collecting for over a decade via Amazon, flea markets, antique shops, and used bookstores. Every so often I come across a gem of a book, one in which nearly every recipe inspires me. “The Food of Southern Italy” by Carlo Middione, published in 1987 (now out of print), is one of those rare books that draws me to the kitchen like a magnet. I cherish it.
Most of you know I’m a big fan of Mediterranean cooking, so Italian food is right up my alley. Carlo’s book is a bountiful collection of inspiring Italian ideas. Every time I flip through the pages, I’m struck by a gorgeous recipe that I must make. A couple of weeks ago I picked it up again. The weather was starting to warm up, which put me in the mood for Italy, Tuscany, olive oil, and fresh produce. This time, I found a promising recipe for “Eggplant Sandwiches.” The basic idea was mouthwatering… provolone cheese and mortadella sandwiched between two eggplant slices, breaded and baked. Obviously mortadella isn’t kosher, nor is mixing meat with dairy, so I started thinking about how I could modify the recipe. I had a small jar of oil-packed sun dried tomatoes in the pantry that I’d been wanting to use, along with some flat leaf parsley in the fridge. With a little creativity, I whipped up something utterly scrumptious. Friends were joining us for dinner that day, and a couple of them are keeping low carb, so I experimented with two coatings– a traditional breadcrumb coating and a low carb, gluten free almond meal coating. Both worked out great, so I’m posting both options here. More info on dietary modifications below. My guests were thrilled!
What I love about this recipe is how versatile it is. It can be served as an appetizer, a dairy side, or even an entree. They’re great on their own with just a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Topping them with a bit of marinara or arrabiata sauce makes them more entree-like… sort of like eggplant parmesan, but better. Crispy golden outside, warm gooey cheese and sweet sun dried tomato within. Buon appetito!
This dish is easily adaptable for a variety of dietary restrictions. For gluten free or low carb, sub almond meal for breadcrumbs. For nut free, use breadcrumbs. For vegetarian, use vegetarian (microbial rennet) Parmesan and provolone.
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- 1 medium eggplant (1 lb.)
- 5-6 oz provolone cheese, sliced thin
- 1 small jar (8 oz) sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley, divided
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs or 1 ½ cups almond meal (if nut free, do not use almond meal)
- 3/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (if using almond meal, 1 1/2 cups)
- 2-3 eggs
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/4 cup marinara or arrabiata sauce (optional)
- Nonstick cooking oil spray or more olive oil for greasing the baking sheet
- Slice the eggplant into rounds slightly thinner than ¼ inch.
- Place the rounds into a colander and sprinkle them with salt. Let the eggplant sit for about 30 minutes to draw out moisture and bitterness. Rinse the rounds and pat them dry with paper towels.
- Place rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Place the eggplant rounds on a flat surface, lining them up in rows with like-sized slices paired together. Tear the provolone into small pieces. Cover half of the eggplant slices with a layer of the torn provolone.
- Drain the sun dried tomatoes of their excess oil. Place a sun dried tomato on top of each of the provolone-covered eggplant slices. Divide half of the fresh chopped parsley between the eggplant slices, sprinkling a little parsley onto the top of each sun dried tomato. Season the piled slices with salt and pepper.
- Use the rest of the empty eggplant slices to cover the piled slices, making small eggplant sandwiches.
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs or almond meal and grated parmesan. If using almond meal, you will need twice as much of the breading mixture (twice the almond meal, twice the parmesan), as the almond meal tends to clump a bit during the breading process. The parmesan should be finely grated to a powdery texture; if your parmesan is shredded, pulse it in a food processor till powdery. In a small mixing bowl, beat the eggs (start with 2—you may or may not end up needing one more). Grease a nonstick baking sheet. Gather the eggplant sandwiches, two bowls, and baking sheet together.
- Grab one sandwich at a time, grasping firmly in the center to hold it together. Dip the sandwich in the beaten eggs, making sure it is completely covered on all sides with a thin layer of egg. Let any excess egg drip back into the bowl.
- Immediately coat the sandwich in the breadcrumb or almond meal mixture, making sure to coat the sides and edges evenly. Place the breaded sandwich on the greased baking sheet. Repeat till all sandwiches have been dipped and breaded.
- Drizzle the coated sandwiches lightly with the olive oil, dividing it evenly between the sandwiches.
- Bake in preheated oven on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes, flipping once halfway through baking, till the sandwiches are golden brown. Serve them warm sprinkled with the remaining chopped parsley. Optionally, top each sandwich with 2 tbsp warm marinara or arrabiata sauce, then with parsley.