If not for a lack of Italian bread at my local market, this would have been a sandwich.
Unlike many vegetarian types, I patronize the Philly cheesesteak restaurants around the country. I know a dirty little secret that most don't want to admit - they make a pretty darn good vegetarian sandwich in the form of an eggplant parm grinder on garlic bread. I first discovered this at Philly's Best in Chicago. Alongside the many variations of beef on a bun, they had the perfect eggplant sandwich. I had this reconfirmed at Anna Marie's on Light Street in Baltimore this last week. Great Italian sandwich places make great eggplant parm sandwiches.
The secret is to make sure the eggplant is nearly dry before you start to cook it. Eggplant, like so many vegetables, has a very high moisture content. A good eggplant parmesan sandwich is fried. Water and oil do not mix, and cause all kinds of problems, whether you're an Exxon tanker in Prudhoe Bay, or me trying to get a good bite for lunch.
I dried my farm fresh eggplant (bought from a farm on Route 108 in Maryland just West of Centennial Park) by using salt, time, and paper towels. You can make a great indulgent vegetarian sandwich yourself if you follow my recipe. I don't add garlic, I don't add fried onions and peppers or sauteed mushrooms or any of a dozen toppings that would go well with this meal. You can try those on. I'm sure they'll be great. But start with this very basic recipe before you go hog wild.
Eggplant Parmesan Almost Sandwiches
2 short loaves crispy Italian bread (about 18" long and 3-4" wide)
garlic and butter - as you like it
1 Italian eggplant, about a pound to a pound and a half in size
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
2 cups breadcrumbs
olive oil, amount depend on skillet volume - 1/8" at least plus some to replenish
1/4 cup shredded mozarella cheese - the fake low moisture/part skim stuff, not the good fresh stuff.
1/4 cup shredded provolone
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
2 cups your favorite marinara sauce
Peel your eggplant and cut it lengthwise into 1/2" wide slices. Lat these on a cooling rack over a pan and salt lightly on one side. Let sit for 30 minutes. Blot the slices well with paper towels. Flip them, and salt the other side. Let it sit again for 30 minutes and blot that side with a paper towel. Let it sit for 30 minutes more, wrap each slice in paper towels, and press firmly to extract as much water as you can withut damaging the slices. Unwrap and set aside.
Pour the flour into one large bowl or pie tin. Pour the bread crumbs into a similar container. Place the beaten eggs in a bowl in the middle. You should have eggplant to the extreme left, flour on your proximate left, eggs in front of you, and bread crumbs (which you may season if you wish), to your right.
Pour 1/8" of olive oil into your skillet. Heat over medium high heat until it shimmers.
DIp the eggplant slices in the flour, coating well on both sides, and shake off any excess. Now dip the slice in the eggs, again coating well on both sides, and let the excess drip off. Finally dip the slice in the bread crumbs and coat well on both sides, gently shaking off off the excess.
Fry the slices for two-three minutes per side, flipping once. The slice should be golden brown when finished. Remove from oil and set aside. Coat and fry more slices until you have completed all your eggplant.
Split your loaves in half lengthwise and slather each side with finely chopped garlic and butter Bake on a large cookie sheet until the bread is hot and the inside lightly crispy.
Put the marinara in the microwave in a bowl for one to two minutes to heat it. Cover with a paper towel to prevent spatters.
Remove the bread form the cookie sheet and add the eggplant slices. Set oven to broil. sprinkle the three cheeses evenly over each slice, using all of it. Place the sheet under the broiler for one minute to 90 seconds until teh cheese is golden.
Spread the marinara on each loaf half, then add two eggplant slices. Fold over, add any other ingredients like peppers, onions, or mushrooms and eat.
So why don't I have a sandwich above? Well, the store didn't have the right bread, but I took a flyer and bought some frozen garlic bread. What I didn't count on was that it would be sliced along the wrong axis. Ah well.