This is the time of year that I cherish the availability of affordable produce at the market. This is the time of year where it’s easy to spend just a few dollars and take home bags of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and green beans.

I visited the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Sunday, a beautifully sunny and mild day for market shopping. Despite the noon Vikings’ game, the market was packed and the vendors were happy to answer questions and offer samples of melon, apples, and cheese. After picking up a few essentials and telling the apple guy that no, I am not ready for apple season yet, I came across a great deal on eggplant. Just $2 for all of this:

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(credit: Crystal Grobe)

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

I knew I had to make eggplant parmesan. It’s something I ate for the first time in college, when it was prepared by my roommate’s Italian aunt. While her fried version is delicious, I went for a baked version instead, hoping to save some fat and calories. I also saved some fat and calories by using a small bag of finely chopped cheese curds after realizing my mozzarella had gone bad. I was happy to improvise! Remember that small batch basil pesto I froze a few weeks ago? That helped amp up the flavor and added some color. No worries if you don’t have pesto: just use chopped basil instead. Serve with a warmed baguette and a small side salad to round out the meal.

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

Eggplant Parmesan

(serves 4-6)

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2 lb. eggplant
Kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp water
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 cup basil pesto
10 oz. ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten

For layering:
2 cups marinara or pasta sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded or chopped
4 oz. gruyere cheese, grated

Slice eggplant into 1/2-inch slices and place on a large cookie sheet. Sprinkle salt over eggplant and let sit 30 minutes to release moisture. Rinse and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a shallow dish, add beaten eggs and water. In a separate dish, add panko and parmesan. Dredge each eggplant slice in the egg mixture and then with the panko mixture, patting to help panko adhere. Place on a baking sheet coated lightly with oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

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In a small bowl combine pesto, ricotta, and egg. To assemble dish, spoon pasta sauce on bottom of a 13×9-inch glass baking dish. Layer eggplant on top of sauce, followed by basil-ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the mozzarella and fontina. Repeat layers ending with cheese. Lightly grease aluminum foil and cover tightly over dish. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, and bake for 10 more minutes until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven, let cool slightly and serve.