Eggplant Florentine is a delicious and comforting vegetarian dish that combines crisp slices of pan-fried eggplant with the creamy richness of a spinach and ricotta filling and a quick tomato sauce. It's perfect on its own or served with a side of pasta.
I love eggplant parmesan, but often, it's greasy and dense when I order it in restaurants. That's why I like to make my own. If you haven't already, check out my recipe for eggplant parm steaks with a unique crunchy coating that hits the spot.
But I wanted to change things a little in this recipe and make a hybrid dish that's part eggplant parm and part lasagna. I did this by layering pieces of crispy pan-fried eggplant with a lemony ricotta and spinach filling, and a super fast tomato sauce. It's fresh, cheesy, and satisfying without feeling heavy. I call this Eggplant Florentine, though other recipes I've found make the dish as more of a casserole.
If you're wondering what makes this Florentine or a dish in the style of Florence, that's a good question. Generally, this name refers to certain ingredients; often, as is the case here, it's spinach and creamy cheese. Will you find this dish when you visit Florence? No, probably not. But who knows? There is no shortage of good food in Italy.
Here's everything you need to make grilled spaghetti squash with meat sauce.
- Eggplant - Medium-sized Italian eggplants are ideal. The Japanese variety won't work well here as they're too thin. Look for firm, fresh eggplant that will hold up well to slicing and frying.
- Tomatoes - If you have fresh tomatoes to make the sauce, great. If not, use canned whole plum tomatoes that you can smash with a spoon.
- Spinach - An essential ingredient that makes the dish Florentine. Baby spinach with small stems is ideal. Otherwise, remove any big stems from regular spinach before cooking.
- Ricotta - A good quality, creamy ricotta cheese will make the best filling.
See the recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
There are a few steps to making this Eggplant Florentine. But they're all easy enough and well worth your time and effort.
Prep the ingredients. Slice the eggplant into ½ inch pieces, thinly slice the mozzarella, zest the lemon, finely chop the garlic, and roughly tear the basil. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
Bread the eggplant. In one dish, beat the eggs with a splash of water. In another, add the flour. In a third, combine the breadcrumbs, ½ teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and oregano. Using a fork, dip each piece of eggplant into the flour, the egg, and then the breading, shaking off any excess in between. Repeat with all of the eggplant slices.
Fry the eggplant. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. When hot, place several pieces of eggplant, without crowding, and cook for 2-3 minutes until browned. Flip and cook another 2 minutes until browned on the second side.
Place the fried eggplant slices on a rack set on a baking sheet. Repeat the frying process with the remaining slices, adding them to the tray as you go. Keep the tray in the oven to keep warm as you prep the other ingredients.
Make the sauce. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands, and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes before stirring in the basil. You can cook the spinach while you wait.
Make the filling. Wipe out the pan you used to cook the eggplant. Add the spinach, along with a splash of water. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring, until completely wilted down.
Stir the ricotta, parmesan, and lemon zest into the spinach until combined.
Assemble. Spoon sauce onto a third of the eggplant slices.
Then, top the sauce with the ricotta mixture.
Top each of the cheese-covered slices with another piece of eggplant. Then, cover each with some more sauce.
Now, spoon the remainder of the ricotta over the sauce.
Top with the remaining slices of eggplant and another spoonful of sauce.
Place a thin slice of the mozzarella on top of each eggplant stack. Then place the tray under your oven's broiler to melt and lightly brown the cheese. Serve immediately.
🍅Substitutions and Variations
- Gluten-free - Swap out gluten-free breadcrumbs for the panko and your preferred gluten-free flour instead of the all-purpose.
- Crushed tomatoes - If you'd rather use pre-crushed tomatoes, that's fine. I like the chunky texture you get when crushing them yourself. Use about 2 cups worth of crushed in place of the whole tomatoes or a 14.5-ounce can.
Non-stick pan - A non-stick pan will make pan frying the eggplant easier. It'll prevent you from using a ton of oil and keep the eggplant from sticking. If you don't have a non-stick pan, no problem. Just expect to add more oil as the eggplant cooks. This is the non-stick pan I currently use and recommend.
Cooling rack - Placing the fried eggplant slices on a cooling rack after frying will help keep them crispy. It's helpful if you have one, but it's not essential.
Store any leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. No matter how you reheat the dish, the eggplant won't be as crisp as the day you make it.
I repeat myself, but my top tip for this Eggplant Florentine is to cook the eggplant in a non-stick skillet. It makes such a difference. Not only does the eggplant keep all of the coating on, but it also means you can use significantly less oil to cook the eggplant. It produces a lighter, tastier result that I can't recommend enough.
Salting eggplant and letting it before cooking draws out some of the eggplant's moisture, and some say, it's bitterness as well. But I never bother anymore. I don't think it makes that much of a difference for the 30+ extra minutes it takes for this step, and I've never found my eggplant dishes bitter. Most people seem to agree.
It's up to personal preference. In a dish like this Eggplant Florentine, each piece of eggplant has just a thin piece of skin. This softens during cooking and is easy to eat. But if you prefer not to have skin, or have older and tougher looking eggplant, go ahead and peel it first.
Like apples, eggplant flesh can brown quickly once sliced. If your eggplant is going to sit for a while after cutting, you can toss it with a little lemon juice to prevent the browning. But if your eggplant is soft, brown, and looks spoiled, that's a different story. It's gone bad on you. Prevent this by buying firm, fresh eggplants, storing them in the fridge, and using themw within a week.
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