The Secret Ingredient That Will Change Your Eggplant Parmesan Forever

Italian cuisine is one that is full of comfort foods, from starchy, creamy risotto to cheesy, saucy lasagna. And of all these filling dishes, eggplant parmesan is undoubtedly a standout. A rich, homey casserole that's authentically Italian through and through, the dish features layers of soft, tender eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheeses, including Parmesan and mozzarella. Eggplant parmesan is so beloved across Italy that a full three regions — Sicily, Naples, and Parma — all lay claim to the meal. 

But whatever its origins, eggplant parmesan remains a popular dish worldwide, showing up as an entree on restaurant menus, tucked into hoagie rolls at sandwich shops, and, of course, on dinner tables far and wide. Easily adaptable to the tastes of home cooks and their families, it seems like everyone has their own personal take on eggplant parm, from opting for skipping the step of frying the eggplant to create a lighter dish to even creating a vegan version with dairy-free mozzarella and parm. Tasting Table recipe developer Ting Dalton has her own take on Baked Eggplant Parmesan, which brings a little extra oomph to the tomato sauce component.

Some vinegar in the sauce adds a welcome acidity

Although delicious, eggplant parmesan can tend towards being heavy. After all, the slices of eggplant utilized in the dish are traditionally breaded and fried first, leading to a fairly oily layer of vegetables, and it's also typically full of fatty cheeses including mozzarella and Parmesan. There are ways to lighten the dish up, a few of which Tasting Table recipe developer Ting Dalton employs in her recipe for Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Firstly, Dalton skips the step of frying the eggplant. Instead, she slices the vegetable into rounds, salts it with eggplant, and lets it sit for between 20 minutes to an hour until it beads up with moisture. After blotting the eggplant with paper towels, a step said to help reduce any bitterness in the vegetable, Dalton breads the rounds with a panko-Parmesan mixture, then bakes them in the oven until golden brown.

Dalton's next trick for lightening up her eggplant parm comes with the creation of her tomato sauce. Standard ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, crushed tomatoes, and basil are joined by just a touch of white wine vinegar, whose zing helps cut through the dish's richness. "My secret ingredient here is the white wine vinegar," Dalton told Tasting Table. "It just lifts the tomato sauce and adds an extra tanginess alongside the aromatic basil and fragrant garlic." So if you're in the mood for well-balanced, not-too-heavy eggplant parmesan, you've come to the right place.