In the neighborhood where I grew up, my go-to spot for culinary excellence was Armando’s Pizza. If I was in a hurry, I’d buy a slice and be on my way. But if I had the time, I’d have an eggplant sub.
Armando’s Eggplant Parmesan Submarine Sandwich required extra time because I had to eat slowly and enjoy it properly.
I could not rush through those breaded cutlets of meaty eggplant, drenched in marinara, plastered in provolone, wrapped in a fresh Italian roll and lit up with a carefully chosen assortment of toppings known as “everything.”
The eggplant sub was the most satisfying food I could afford — and more delicious than many foods I couldn’t afford.
This time of year, when eggplant is abundant and the price is right, I bring home boxes from the market and make trays of eggplant cutlets to freeze. They store remarkably well, for longer than a year without noticeable drop in quality. In a month or two, meanwhile, it will be time to make a year’s supply of tomato sauce. Then we’ll have the means to make eggplant Parmesan subs, for some of the slowest, tastiest fast food you’ll ever try.
Baked Eggplant Cutlets
There are four stages to this recipe: cutting, salting, breading and baking the eggplant. The salting step removes some of the eggplant’s excess water. The breading is a classic three-stage process: first, coat the eggplant slice with flour. Then dip it in beaten eggs. The flour holds the egg on, and then you dip it in panko flakes, which stick to the egg. I realize that Panko flakes are not exactly authentic Italian, but they make the best coating.
This recipe will make enough cutlets for twelve large subs. Because it really makes no sense to go to all of this trouble to make a few cutlets. Makes much more sense to freeze any leftovers.
• 3 large eggplants (or about 3 pounds worth)
• 4 teaspoons salt
• 2 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon thyme or Italian seasonings
• 1 teaspoon Spike seasoning or seasoned salt
• 3 eggs
• ½ cup milk
• 4 cups panko flakes
• 1 cup chopped parsley
• 1 cup Parmesan cheese, powdered or shredded and chopped
Cut off the ends of each eggplant so the fruit can stand on end. Cut straight down with a knife, starting on one side of the upended eggplant, and cut slices no fatter than a half-inch. Use a peeler on the outside slices so they have two sides. Lay the slices on a rack — I use an oven rack — and sprinkle them with salt as evenly as you can. After about two hours, gently dab them with a paper towel or kitchen towel, and turn them. Sprinkle the other sides with the rest of the salt and turn them. After another two hours, dab them with a towel.
In a bowl that’s large enough for an eggplant cutlet, mix the flour and dried seasonings. In a similar sized bowl, beat the eggs and milk. In a third bowl, mix the panko flakes with the parsley and cheese. Dredge each piece of eggplant through the seasoned flour and then dip it into the egg wash. Hold it up for a moment so the egg drips off, and then dredge in the panko flakes, pressing them into the eggy cutlets with your fingers.
Place each cutlet on a cookie sheet. When the sheet is full, with no two cutlets touching, drizzle the cutlets with olive oil at a rate that drops about a teaspoon of oil per cutlet. Place the tray in an oven pre-heated to 400 and bake until you smell nicely browned toast, about 20 minutes. Flip the cutlets and cook another ten or so minutes, staying alert to the smell of burning. Ideally, some of the cutlets will be a little puffy when you take them out.
To freeze cutlets for later, allow them to cool to room temperature on the cookie sheet. Scrape them loose with a spatula, if necessary, and then put the tray in the freezer. When frozen, transfer to freezer bags. Then whenever you feel the urge you can make some instant parma.
The Eggplant Sub
• 1 hoagie, sub roll, or section of baguette
• 1-3 cutlets, depending on the size — enough to cover one of the two cut faces
• ½ cup warm marinara sauce
• 3 slices provolone (or the equivalent amount of shredded mozzarella)
• “Everything,” which at Armando’s would be chopped tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles and pickled hot cherry peppers (I use Giuliano brand sliced red and yellow cherry peppers)
Slice open the roll along one side, so the top and bottom remain connected along the other. Cover one side of this open-faced sandwich with cutlets, and smother them in marinara. Lay provolone slices over both sides — atop the eggplant and marinara on one half, and bare bread on the other — and bake at 400 until the cheese melts. Remove from the oven, add “everything” and serve.