This cheesy, warm appetizer hits all the finest points of the classic Italian comfort food dish with much less effort on your part.
In St. Louis, we have no trouble finding fine Italian food thanks to the Hill neighborhood, the historic enclave settled by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. Any of the great restaurants in this neighborhoods will have classic Italian dishes, including Eggplant Parmesan.
Silky eggplant, rich tomato sauce and that to-die-for baked parmesan top crust come together to create a comforting pan of Italian love. I can almost feel the arms of an Italian nonna encircle me with each bite, which is saying something because I never had a grandma from Italy.
But making Eggplant Parmesan is a labor of love, even for an experienced cook (like nonna). There’s the sauce that must be made, the prepping of the eggplant to create those beautiful planks, dredging those planks in egg and flour and so forth. I guess that’s why I usually enjoy this dish when I go out to eat; too much mess and effort for me to make at home. Plus, I’m the only one who really loves eggplant in my household.
However, I can easily make this Eggplant Parmesan Dip at home because the oven does all the work. The result is a baked dish that delivers on nostalgic flavor for very little effort. Let’s get cooking!
For this recipe, you’ll need:
2 small zucchini
3 cloves garlic
seasoned bread crumbs
grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Good ingredients will usually turn out the best results, so when choosing an eggplant, look first for firm flesh and then for a smooth purple skin with no bruises or blemishes. My mom also said smaller eggplants were less bitter, so if that’s a concern, look for the teardrop-shaped Italian eggplants that are smaller than the common globe (American) eggplant in the grocery stores.
However, for this recipe, we’re roasting the eggplant so that will make removing the skin and seeds very easy.
You may wonder why there’s zucchini in an eggplant parm dip. Good question. It has to do with the history of eggplant parmesan.
Some food historians say that eggplant parmigiana hails from 17th-century Sicily, its name derived from the Sicilian word ‘parmiciana,’ which are the little wooden strips that create a shutter. One look at a pan of Parmigiana di Melanazane, with the overlapping planks of fried eggplant, and it’s not a stretch to see how the recipe got its name.
Other historians say the first record of parmigiana is from 16th-century Naples, but strips of zucchini were fried in lard and seasoned with parmesan cheese and butter before going into an oven. Either way, inventive cooks were coming up with a hearty dish when meat wasn’t readily available.
My Eggplant Parmesan Dip honors both traditions, using eggplant with zucchini. (Wouldn’t it be great if all disagreements could be settled with food?) Traditional Italian Parmigiana di Melanazane dips eggplant in egg and flour before frying in oil. Italian Americans added the bread crumbs.
But for this appetizer, there is nothing breaded and fried, keeping a serving to under 300 calories. The vegetables are roasted, which brings out natural sweetness, and a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs are all that's needed for a crisp topping.
To roast the veggies, cut the eggplant in half and brush with olive oil then season with salt and pepper. I tossed the chunked zucchini, garlic and onion in oil, too, before roasting at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes.
I scooped out the flesh and removed seeds from the soft, roasted eggplant, and transferred that—along with the other veggies—to The Beast, Mom’s Mighty Chef food processor from the 1970s. One quick whir in this monster and I had an eggplant dip with a light texture just right for spreading.
Little bombs of tangy goat cheese from Baetje Farms in Bloomsdale, Missouri, were stirred into the eggplant mixture and transferred to a small baking dish. I topped that with diced fresh tomato, seasoned bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese. This baked for about 15 minutes until the bread crumbs were toasted and the warm dip started to bubble.
I created a perfect bite on a cracker; the silky roasted eggplant paired beautifully with the goat cheese, while a warm taste of fresh tomato hit my tongue just ahead of the crunchy bread crumb/cheese topping. I couldn’t wait to get all the necessary photos for this post so I could dive into the dip (which I did). It really is so good, perfect with a salad for a lighter dinner or a lu or to use as a star appetizer at your next gathering (game night, book club, fire pit gathering).
Should you have any leftovers (I would be surprised), store in the refrigerator for a day or two and then pop uncovered to bake in the oven at 350 or 375 degrees to warm it up again. This wouldn’t do well in a microwave as the bread crumb topping would get soggy.
Seriously, give this Easy Eggplant Parmesan Dip a try. I think you’ll find yourself saying after just one bite “that’s amore!”