Eggplant Parmesan on a Budget

Eggplant’s a great vegetable to use pretty much any time of the year. It stays relatively cheap on produce price, and the texture is beefy enough to make you and your family feel filled on a hearty vegetable. After doing the math on this recipe start to finish, it’s about as cheap as it gets to feed a crowd (granted, I was only cooking for 2.5 but that makes for great freezer leftovers!).  With a few make-ahead items like the homemade bread crumbs, which I’m about to show you, and marinara sauce it really brought down the total cost of my meal (which could have fed a family of 4 easily).

Homemade Bread Crumbs

  • Leftover bread, any variety (I used white and wheat sandwich bread)
  • Italian seasoning, if using

First, stick your bread slices into your food processor. They don’t have to be stale, baked, or anything – just throw what you have in there.

Start pulsing until your bread begins to break down. When you have manageable crumbles, give it one or two big whirls to get it to the fine texture you want.

Pile it onto a large baking sheet in as thin of a layer as you can get (no oil, no seasoning at this point), then bake at 300 for about 10-12 minutes.

I gave mine a stir to break them up a little after the first 1o minutes and put them back in for another 3 minutes. They don’t get much darker after being baked, but they should feel crunchy and dry to the touch.

For this recipe I used about 6 slices of bread (2 pieces were dinky end pieces, so I count those as 2 for 1 normal piece) from a loaf that was originally $1, which got me about 2 1/2 cups of crumbs.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups bread crumbs (Mine were plain and I added Italian seasoning. If your’s are already seasoned, leave out the seasoning)
  • 1 Tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups Homemade Marinara Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup Monterrey Jack cheese (I’ll explain why I used this, I know it’s a little weird)
  • S&P (salt & pepper)
  • Oil for frying (I used olive, but canola or whatever you have on hand is fine)

Start out by cleaning and slicing your eggplant. Cut both ends off and slice it into about 1/4” thick rounds.

Begin heating your oil in the pan on medium heat, just do a light coating for the entire bottom. Warning* eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge, so you’ll have to keep adding oil as the pan dries out. To keep it from soaking up too much, keep your coating in the pan light.

Set up your breading station – 1 shallow pan with the beaten egg and a splash of water and another pan or plate with the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, & S&P.

Coat the eggplant slices lightly in egg, then bread crumbs, and line them on a baking sheet until you’re ready to drop them in the pan.

When you have a few slices ready to go, drop them in your hot pan. Unless you’re using a large skillet, don’t have any more than about 3 slices in your pan at a time. Otherwise, the pan gets too crowded and the slices won’t brown evenly. The browning process only takes 2-3 minutes on each side.

After they’ve browned, line them into your baking dish (I overlapped mine, so it’s fine if you do too).

Coat the slices lightly with marinara as you layer the cooked eggplant.

Cover first with Parmesan, then with Monterrey Jack.

OK, the reason I used Monterrey Jack is a little convoluted. I wanted Mozzarella for this recipe, and when I visited Kroger, they didn’t have Mozzarella in the size block I wanted (only an 8oz block instead of 16oz, and both were on sale for the same price – why wouldn’t I want the 16oz?). So they kindly allowed me to buy the 24-oz size of Monterrey Jack for the same price as the 8 or 16-oz Mozzarella (which ended up saving me $2.19 – HUGE). In the end, Monterrey Jack is so mild and melty I really wasn’t missing the Mozzarella anyway.

You could bake at 350 for about 20 minutes if you like. Since my casserole stayed pretty hot, I just decided to broil it on low until the cheese was hot and bubbly. I had my dish on the 3rd row from the top of the oven so that I didn’t run the risk of burning anything (which happens sometimes with my broiler luck).

Mmm…hot, bubbly, stringy cheese – come to momma!

Final Tally on My Eggplant Parmesan

  • Homemade bread crumbs = $0.30
  • Homemade marinara sauce = $1.33
  • Cheese = $0.17 (MJ = $0.12, Parm = $0.05)
  • Egg = $0.10
  • Eggplant = ~ $0.40 (It was on sale for $0.69/lb and I bought 2 for $0.67- 1 large and 1 small. I only ended up using the large for this recipe)

Total = $2.30 – AMAZING! This recipe could absolutely feed a family of 4 (a serving size being 4-5 eggplant slices per person).  Can’t get Eggplant Parm in any Italian restaurant for under $8, I’ll tell you that right now!

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