This simple yet satisfying recipe combines pan-fried breaded eggplant with fresh basil, mozzarella and pesto for a cheesy summer pasta bake!
If you've ever wondered how to cook eggplant so that it actually tastes good, you've come to the right place.
Breading and lightly pan-frying is my preferred way to serve eggplant, and it tastes even better when combined with pasta, fresh basil, and mozzarella.
The eggplant ends up tender yet crisp and very flavorful. No spongy weirdness here!
Why this recipe works
- Dietary features: vegetarian, nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free optional
- Eggplant is breaded, pan-fried and baked until tender yet crispy
- Made with simple, inexpensive ingredients and pantry staples
- Easy to customize with your favorite pasta and sauce
- Eggplant: Globe or Italian eggplants are the best option for this pasta bake. I leave the skins on but you can remove them if you prefer.
- Pasta: Choose any kind of small pasta shape. You can also use whole wheat pasta, gluten-free pasta or a protein pasta.
- Pasta sauce: I like to keep things simple with store bought pasta sauce. Simple garlic and basil sauce is my favorite but any kind will work.
- Mozzarella: I use one mozzarella ball but shredded mozzarella also works.
Breading the eggplant
We'll start by sweating the eggplant by tossing it with salt. This draws out moisture and keeps the eggplant from getting soggy while cooking.
After 10 minutes, pat the eggplant with a paper towel or clean dish towel to remove the excess moisture.
Next step: bread the eggplant! Set up your breading station of a bowl filled with flour and a bowl of milk whisked with an egg. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs across a half sheet pan.
Coat each eggplant slice in the flour (1), then the milk mixture (2), then the breadcrumbs (3) until all eggplant slices are breaded (4).
To pan fry the eggplant, start by heating a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in enough neutral oil (I use canola oil) to coat the bottom of the pan.
You can tell the oil is hot enough by adding a small sprinkling of the breadcrumbs. If they sizzle, the oil is ready to go!
Working in batches, cook the breaded eggplant slices for about 2 minutes on each side. They will be golden brown when ready. You may need to add extra oil between batches.
Making the eggplant bake
Making the actual eggplant bake is very easy and is all about the layers. Once you have the eggplant fried, simply put everything together:
- Half of the cooked pasta and sauce and half of the breaded eggplant
- Remaining pasta, sauce and eggplant, sliced mozzarella pieces
Bake at 375F until the mozzarella cheese is melted. Turn on the broiler to make golden brown! Serve topped with fresh basil and dollops of pesto.
I use a 10x10 baking dish but any similarly sized dish will work.
Recipe FAQ and expert tips
- Fry the eggplant until golden but not dark brown. The eggplant will continue cooking a little in the oven, so if you have any overly browned eggplant pieces I recommend putting them in the first layer so that they are covered up.
- Add protein: Eggplant's texture makes it a great meat replacement, but if you want some more protein you can add your favorite cooked sausages or a can of chickpeas.
- Veggies: You can add any kind of veggie here like sautéed mushrooms or zucchini and steamed peas or broccoli. Mix it into the pasta before baking.
- Make it extra cheesy by serving with fresh grated Parmesan. It's really good.
- The breaded eggplant is great on its own as a side or appetizer. It's great served with marinara sauce or even pesto.
I haven't tested it myself but it should work. I've had success breading tofu with a flax egg and soy milk (instead of an egg and cow's milk) and eggplant shouldn't be any different. Miyoko's makes a great vegan mozzarella that would go well in place of standard mozzarella. Choose a dairy-free pesto. My avocado pesto would be great here!
Yes, this pasta bake can be made with your favorite gluten-free pasta and gluten-free breadcrumbs.
For best quality, keep refrigerated for 3-4 days. Reheat single servings in the microwave or cover the entire dish with foil and reheat in the oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until warmed through.
You can cook the pasta 48-72 hours in advance and toss with olive oil but the breaded eggplant are best if used right away.
Sweat eggplant to keep it from getting too soggy. By tossing eggplant with salt, it draws out some of the moisture and prevents it from getting wet while cooking.
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Breaded Eggplant Pasta Bake
- 1 pound eggplant see note #1
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces short pasta I used cellentani, see note #2
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup canola oil more/less as needed
- 24 ounces pasta sauce of choice see note #3
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella sliced into small pieces, see note #4
- ¼ cup fresh chopping basil
- ¼ cup pesto
- red pepper flakes for serving (optional)
- Slice eggplant into thin slices, about ½ inch each. Add to a large bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, tossing to combine. Let rest for 10 minutes to sweat the eggplant. After 10 minutes, dab the eggplant with a paper towel or towel to remove any moisture.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions in well salted water. Drain when cooked to al dente. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Set up a breading station: one bowl with flour, one bowl with milk and egg whisked together, and a baking sheet with the breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning and black pepper spread across it.
- Coat each eggplant slice in the flour, then milk mixture, then breadcrumbs. Set aside until all eggplant are breaded.
- Heat a large skillet or cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to fully coat the bottom of the pan. You can tell the oil is hot enough when you add a crumb of breading and it immediately sizzles.
- Working in batches, cook the eggplant on each side until golden, about 2 minutes for each side. Adjust heat as needed if browning too quickly and add extra oil as needed. Set cooked eggplant on a towel lined plate to soak up any oil.
- Combine the cooked pasta and sauce together in the pot you cooked the pasta in. Lightly spray a 9x9 or similarly sized baking dish with cooking spray. Add half the pasta and sauce to the dish, then cover with half of the eggplant. Add remaining pasta and eggplant. Top with torn pieces of mozzarella cheese.
- Bake at 375 degrees F on the middle oven rack for 10 minutes. Once the cheese is melted, turn on the broiler and broil until the cheese is starting to bubble and brown. Keep an eye on it because it can burn quickly!
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Top with red pepper flakes, fresh chopped basil and a dollops of pesto for serving.
- Eggplant: Globe or Italian eggplants are the best option. You can remove skins if preferred.
- Pasta: Choose any kind of small or medium pasta shape. Whole wheat, protein and gluten-free pasta work.
- Pasta sauce: Simple garlic and basil sauce is my favorite but any kind will work.
- Mozzarella: I use one mozzarella ball but shredded mozzarella also works.
- Gluten-free options: Use gluten-free breadcrumbs and gluten-free pasta.
- Vegan options: Use vegan mozzarella, non-dairy milk (unsweetened soy is my go-to) and a flax egg in place of a regular egg. Make a flax egg by combining 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water. Let rest 5 minutes before using. Choose a vegan pesto or try my homemade pesto without Parmesan.
- Leftovers: Keep refrigerated for 3-4 days for best quality. Reheat in microwave or oven.