Raichlen’s Rule states that if something tastes great baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled. Which brings us to a dish I never imagined I’d cook on the grill: eggplant parmigiana. Another rule of mine states that if grilling doesn’t measurably improve a dish you might bake, fry, or sauté, you should stick with the traditional method. (Just because you can cook virtually everything on the grill, it doesn’t mean you should.) Well, grilling benefits eggplant parmigiana in at least four ways. First, you eliminate a lot of the oil and oil-soaked breading. Second, you can introduce an interesting smoke flavor by using the Smoked Tomato Sauce. Third, there’s the charred cedar plank, which adds another layer of flavor and cool factor. Finally, my grilled version is a lot quicker, easier, and less messy to make than traditional eggplant parm, and it tastes cleaner, too.
Cedar-Planked Eggplant Parmigiana
- Active Prep: 15 minutes, plus the time it takes to make the smoked tomato sauce
- Grill Time: 2 to 4 minutes for charring the plank, plus 4 to 6 minutes for the eggplants, plus 10 to 15 minutes for finishing the parmigiana
- Yield: Serves 4
- Method: Direct Grilling / Indirect Grilling
- Equipment: Can be grilled over charcoal or gas. You’ll also need 4 square untreated cedar planks (6 × 6 inches) or 2 long planks, as well as a rimmed sheet pan.
- 1 medium or 2 small eggplants (about 12 ounces in all—you’ll need 12 slices)
- Extra virgin olive oil for brushing and drizzling
- Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
- Dried oregano flakes, preferably Italian
- Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
- 12 ounces fresh burrata, sliced (cream reserved), or mozzarella
- 2 cups Smoked Tomato Sauce or your favorite chunky tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup freshly and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 4 basil leaves, thinly slivered (optional)
- 1/2 cup dried plain breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, or panko (optional)
1: Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Char the cedar planks on one side, about 2 minutes—long enough for them to darken and smoke, but not so long they catch fire. Set aside and let cool on a heatproof surface.
2: Meanwhile, cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Lightly brush each on both sides with olive oil and season on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.
3: Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.
4: Arrange the eggplant slices on the grate. Grill until well browned on both sides and soft in the center, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning with tongs. Alternatively, you can grill the eggplant on a preheated plancha. Transfer the eggplant slices to a rimmed sheet pan and let cool.
5: Assemble the parmigianas: Place a slice of eggplant on each plank (2 slices if using long planks). Top each slice with a slice of burrata (spoon on some of the cream as well), followed by a generous dollop of tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a tuft of slivered basil (if using). Build the second layer of eggplant, burrata, tomato sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and basil. Crown with a slice of eggplant. If you like a crispy top, sprinkle the top eggplant slice with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil. The eggplant parmigianas can be assembled and refrigerated several hours ahead of time and grilled at the last minute.
6: Return the parmigianas on their planks to the grill (but now away from the heat). Indirect grill until the tomato sauce is bubbling, the cheese is melted, and the tops are browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the parmigianas on their planks.
Ever notice how the eggplant in most parmigiana tastes like breading, not like vegetable? That’s because most supermarket eggplants have been engineered to maximize size and shelf life, sacrificing flavor. Take the time to source slender eggplants (preferably organic) at your farmers’ market or at an Italian or Middle Eastern market, and you’ll actually wind up enjoying eggplant parmigiana for its namesake vegetable, not just for the breadcrumbs and cheese. Speaking of cheese, I’ve substituted cream-rich burrata for the traditional mozzarella. Burrata starts as mozzarella, but the cheesemakers stuffs it with soft creamy curds and cream. Delectable just got better. Note: Cedar grilling planks are available at hardware stores, most supermarkets, and online.
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Steven Raichlen offers a primer for how to grill vegetables — with lots of creative flavors and techniques — whether you’re eating main dishes that highlight vegetables, or you’re rounding out the barbecue menu with grilled garden-fresh sides.