For some reason, eggplant used to intimidate me. Its floppy texture, neutral taste, and seemingly over-involved cooking methods made me think it would be something I’d never master.
I was wrong.
Since getting my hands on my first eggplant last year, it’s become one of my absolute favorite fruits (yes, fruit, even though it’s a vegetable in my book).
Two of my absolute favorite recipes utilizing eggplant have been my Cashew-less Vegan Queso and my Eggplant and Caramelized Onion Dip. It’s neutral flavor help it absorb flavors extremely well, and depending on how you cook it, its texture is extremely versatile – from super creamy to super crisp.
And in this little gem of a recipe, it’s crispy to the max.
Although it’s not a vegan cookbook, it has a lot of recipes that can be easily adapted to a vegan diet. And when I laid my eyes on her crispy aubergine pesto pasta, I knew it was the one for me.
This recipe took a few tries to get just right sans egg, but I think I’ve done it (simply)!
It requires just 10 ingredients, employs easy methods, and takes a little more than 1 hour from start to finish. It is a little bit more involved than some savory meals I’ve cooked, but it’s one that John and I both love and crave, so it’s worth the extra time and effort!
I think you guys are going to LOVE this recipe! It’s:
I knew this recipe was a winner when I served it to John and he literally went back for seconds before I could! I love it when happy meal discoveries like that happen.
- 1 medium eggplant (as narrow as possible)*
- 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or other flour of choice - GF for gluten-free eaters)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs (GF for gluten-free eaters)
- 2 Tbsp vegan parmesan + more for serving (or sub 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast)
- 1 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond milk (or other neutral milk)
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 8 ounces pasta (such as linguini, but any kind will do, including veggie noodles or gluten-free)
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- Slice eggplant into thin rounds slightly less than 1/2 inch thick, and sprinkle each side liberally with sea salt. Arrange in a circular pattern in a colander and place in the sink to draw out the bitter taste of the eggplant.
- Let rest for 15 minutes, then rinse and arrange on a clean absorbent kitchen towel. Top with another clean dish towel and lay a baking sheet on top. Place something heavy on top, such as a cast iron skillet, to thoroughly dry for at least 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C) and line a baking sheet with foil and spritz with nonstick spray. Also, if making pasta, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.
- Prepare your dipping stations by placing almond milk + cornstarch in one bowl; flour in another bowl; and bread crumbs + sea salt + oregano + vegan parmesan (or nutritional yeast) in another bowl.
- Once thoroughly dry, dip eggplant slices in flour, then almond milk mixture, then breadcrumbs. Arrange on the baking sheet and pop in oven to bake for a total of 20-30 minutes.
- IMPORTANT STEP: While the eggplant is in the oven, bring a large skillet to medium heat. Once hot, add 2 Tbsp olive oil (or sub canola or grape seed) and pull 3-4 eggplant rounds out of the oven at a time and sauté to give them extra crisp and texture. Cook for ~2 minutes on each side (or browned) and then return to oven to continue crisping. Do this in batches until all rounds are browned.
- While eggplant is browning in the oven, prepare marinara. I prefer adding my tomato sauce and spices to a serving bowl and microwaving to warm, but you could also heat it on the stove. Set aside.
- Once done cooking, drain pasta and cover with a towel to keep warm. Set aside.
- To serve: Plate pasta and eggplant slices and marinara in a dish as a dipping sauce. Additional vegan parmesan cheese makes an excellent topper.
- Leftovers don’t really reheat well, so it’s best when fresh. See notes for additional tips on crispy eggplant!
- Buy a narrow eggplant - the really big wide ones don’t get as crisp!
- Don’t skip the salt / drain step - it really helps draw out the bitterness.
- Once coated, make sure you get the eggplant in the oven as quickly as possible so it doesn’t sit there absorbing any excess moisture.
*Loosely adapted from the Crispy Aubergine Pesto Pasta from Top with Cinnamon’s new Cookbook!
- Really press down on the eggplant after rinsing to ensure you get all of the water out you can.
- Although it’s an extra step, browning the eggplant in the skillet in addition to baking yields the crispiest result!