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: aubergine parmesan.
I adore aubergine parmesan. But as someone who believes almost anything is better on bread, what I really pine for is aubergine 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 aubergine 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 aubergine parmesan recipe I shared a few years ago – namely, the no-fry part. The grill is ideal for transforming rubbery aubergine 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 aubergine 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 pan-frying by grilling breaded aubergine slices on a well-oiled baking tray. Also, you can do this all in a single batch, since the pan easily holds one sliced aubergine, 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 aubergine – 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 (and the fact that this is probably an occasional dinner treat).
I also realised that, at least for this dish, you don’t need to coat the aubergine in multiple ingredients, as it comes out of the oven from its first grilling 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 tinned chopped 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 aubergine parm, I build the sandwich in layers – bread, sauce, aubergine, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aubergine, sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, bread. I keep the grill for one last trick, melting the mozzarella or provolone into a gooey blanket that pulls the whole thing together.
Aubergine parmesan sandwiches
These saucy, cheesy, satisfying sandwiches channel all the joy of aubergine parm into a handheld package, no pan frying required. Instead, we use a generously oiled baking tray to “oven fry” sliced aubergine under the grill. That saves time and effort, plus it allows you to pull together a quick sauce on the stovetop using chopped 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 aubergine, skip that step. Flip the aubergine after broiling for 10 minutes, and then grill a few more minutes until fully cooked.
Swap in your favourite nondairy cheeses to make the recipe vegan. Or pass on the cheese entirely.
Use tinned chopped 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 grill. Rub a halved clove of garlic all over the surface of the toasted bread. You’ll taste the difference (see variation below).
Stack some spicy pickled peppers into the sandwich for extra zing.
Turn this into a mini aubergine parm by layering the aubergine and sauce in a small baking dish. As with the sandwiches, top with the mozzarella and grill (assuming your dish is grill-safe) until melted and bubbling.
Makeahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Storagenotes: The sandwiches are best eaten right away, but you can refrigerate leftover aubergine in an airtight container for up to 3 days; reheat in a 180C oven until warm and slightly crisped. Use for more sandwiches or other dishes.
Total time: 50 minutes
For the aubergine:
6 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1 medium aubergine (450g), trimmed and sliced 1½cm thick
Pinch fine salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
70g fine Italian breadcrumbs
70g panko breadcrumbs
For the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One (425g) tin chopped tomatoes
¼ tsp fine salt, plus more as needed
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Granulated sugar, to taste
2 sub or hoagie rolls, halved lengthwise and toasted
2 tbsp finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided (may substitute vegan alternative)
Two (30g each) slices mozzarella or provolone (may substitute vegan alternative)
Make the aubergine: position a rack 10-15cm from the grill and preheat (use the high setting, if you have an option). Grease a large, rimmed baking tray with 3 tbsp of the olive oil, spreading it evenly with a brush. Place the aubergine slices in a single layer on the baking tray, rubbing them on the pan to make sure they’re fairly well-coated with the oil. Season the aubergine lightly with salt and pepper, flip and repeat with seasoning and rubbing them around in the oil. If the pan and bottoms of the aubergine are looking dry, add a bit more oil.
Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the tray from front to back halfway through, until the aubergine is soft and lightly browned in spots. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the aubergine to a plate. Coat the pan with 2 tbsp more oil.
Make the sauce: while the aubergine is cooking, start the sauce. In a 30cm frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the chopped 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 130g.
Return to the aubergine: 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 aubergine to adhere. Flip once. It’s OK 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 grilled. As you work, transfer the slices back to the baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining tbsp of oil over the top of the aubergine; if you run out, use a little more, as needed.
Still on high, grill the aubergine until rich, golden brown and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. The coating should be somewhat crisp, too, though don’t expect it to be exactly like pan-fried aubergine. Flip the slices and broil again until golden brown, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the aubergine to a plate if you plan to use the baking tray for assembly, below.
Assemble the sandwiches: on a baking tray or oven-safe plate, spread 50g of sauce on the bottom half of each roll. (Feel free to use less if you want your sandwich less saucy. Any extra sauce is great for dipping or as a pizza topping.) Shingle a quarter of the aubergine on top of each sauced roll, 3 to 4 slices. Sprinkle 1½ tsp of the Parmigiano-Reggiano on each sandwich, followed by another layer with the remaining aubergine, another 50g 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 grill for 1 to 2 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.
Variation: Slice the rolls open and brush the interior sides with olive oil. Broil on high, cut sides up, until the bread is golden and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub the toasted surfaces with a clove of garlic. Then, assemble sandwiches as directed above.
© The Washington Post
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