It was our third day in Rome and we were exhausted. And hungry.
My mom is a notoriously picky eater. As the group leader, I was unofficially tasked with not only guiding us through the city, but finding affordable, non-touristy places to eat that would make my picky mom and equally picky sister, happy.
We got lucky this day.
My family begged me to take a lunch break at one of the cafes in front of the Pantheon. I looked at it skeptically.
“This is a tourist trap!” I declared.
Never underestimate the power of hunger and the promise of beautiful scenery to go with your meal.
My mom ordered eggplant parmesan. It was the only thing she ate with gusto the entire trip.
Although my family and I enjoy exploring restaurants, we prefer home-cooked meals. We rented an apartment in Rome and cooked most of our meals during the week with groceries we’d purchased from a local market.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world, but it made me happy to see my mom enjoy this meal with the Pantheon in the background. You really can’t beat that.
Five years later, I wanted to recreate that meal for Mother’s Day albeit without the ancient architecture circling us. I also decided to give it a healthy makeover.
When I surprised my mom with her lunch yesterday, she beamed and gave me a hug and a kiss.
Mission accomplished. :-)
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced across
- 2-3 cups of panko (whole wheat if available)
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tbsps grated parmigiano reggiano, separated
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 28oz cans no salt-added crushed tomatoes
- 3 tbsps tomato paste
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp dried italian oregano
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Handful of fresh basil
Optional side salad
- 4 cups baby spinach
- ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Prep 2 shallow bowls, one with beaten egg whites (you can add a little bit of water to thin this out) and the other with panko and 1 tbsp of grated parmigiano. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil. Dip each slice of eggplant in egg white mixture, then panko, making sure to coat all sides with crumbs. Place on sheet evenly and then spray oil across the top. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.
2. While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce. Heat 1 tbsp of EVOO in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Cook garlic for 45 seconds-1 minute (please don’t burn the garlic! you just want to infuse the oil). Add the tomatoes, paste and seasonings, except for fresh basil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover with lid. Cook for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove lid and stir in half a handful of chopped fresh basil. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.
3. Increase oven temp to 425ºF. In a glass baking dish, spoon tomato sauce across the bottom. Place the baked eggplant slices in a layer. Top with sliced mozzarella cheese and sprinkle 1 tbsp parmiggiano. Spoon more tomato sauce across the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown.
4. Serve 3 slices of eggplant with a side salad of spinach and tomatoes. Sprinkle a little bit of EVOO and chopped fresh basil over the top. Prego! Homemade healthy goodness.
This would go perfectly with a side of whole wheat spaghetti if you’re looking for something heartier.
What I love about making a big batch of tomato sauce (and wasn’t that recipe so easy?!), is that I can save the rest for another day. Why buy a jar of sauce when you can make your own without all of the added sugar and preservatives?
We sat at our old kitchen table. There were no fancy table linens or 1,000 year old temples or old Italian men playing accordions nearby. It was just us, eating together at home. And I’ll never forget it.
How did you celebrate Mother’s Day?
What’s your favorite meatless Italian dish?