Skip the heavy carbs and go straight for the veggies in this flavorful Italian dish. 

I’ve made eggplant Parmesan a handful of times, and I’ll be the first to admit—making this dish is a labor of love. You really have to be in the mood for the tomato-y, cheesy, and crispy-crusted eggplant bake. Traditionally known as Melanzane alla Parmigiana, the Italian dish consists of fried eggplant slices that are layered with tomato sauce and cheese. It mimics the assembly process of preparing a pan of lasagna, however, instead of browning ground meat, you are frying eggplant, which is a task within itself. Of course, when it’s all said and done and that bubbling hot dish comes out of the oven, you will know it was all worth it.

Regardless of whether you are a plants-only or meat-based eater, I think everyone ought to try their hand at making this classic dish at home (at least once), and this recipe is where you should start. Boasting over 100 reviews and a 5-star rating... well, the numbers don’t lie. There are a few key factors that set this eggplant Parmesan recipe (from our friends at Cooking Light) apart from the pack. For starters, it’s lighter. Instead of frying the eggplant, the slices are dredged in a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and whole-wheat panko mixture, and faux fried by baking them in the oven. This drastically cuts down fat, but still creates a crunchy, firm texture. Plus, you don’t have to fuss around with drawing out the water content in the eggplant by coating it in salt; the dry heat from the oven does that for you.

The filling consists of a combination of fresh basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and part-skim ricotta cheese, while fresh mozzarella slices and grated fontina cheese are reserved for layering. This mix of cheeses provides a decadent creaminess and salty flavor profile that reduces a need for additional salt in the recipe overall. If you are feeling ambitious, you can make your tomato sauce from scratch. However, a good-quality jar of store-bought tomato sauce is what the recipe calls for. (Give yourself a break; there’s enough steps in eggplant Parm as is.)

Once the eggplant slices are baked up crisp, you can begin assembling. This is always the most enjoyable part of making any kind of layered baked dish. Start with some sauce on the bottom of the pan, next layer the eggplant slices, followed by a few heavy dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture, and then top with the mozzarella slices and shredded fontina. Repeat this process until your glass baking dish is loaded.

At this point, you should step away from the dish and marvel at the effort that you’ve put forward. Cover it with foil, pop it into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes. Afterward, remove the foil and garnish the dish with a little more mozzarella and fontina cheese for a melty and stunning finish. Get your Instagram picture snapping on as the dish comes out bubbling from the oven because this is definitely a masterpiece worth showing off. Just be ready for your DMs to fill up with a few, “No invite??” messages.