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By May 5, 2021 May 13th, 2022 No Comments

Eggplant and fennel: A tower of taste

By Meda Kessler

A retired Lockheed executive, Tod Stigall now has more time to “dabble” in the kitchen — something he has always enjoyed.

A retired Lockheed executive, Tod Stigall now has more time to “dabble” in the kitchen — something he has always enjoyed.

“It’s fun to create something. And the pandemic took my skills to new levels with extra time on my hands.” He likes this recipe because it’s relatively simple, and he can control the carb content and use a sugar substitute. (A bit of sweetness balances the acidity of the tomatoes.)

If you fear fennel, don’t worry. The baked slices have a subtle flavor that works well with the eggplant and garlicky sauce.

“I used to try too hard; simple preparations are my favorite,” says Stigall, who also uses fresh herbs as much as possible. He also tries to balance flavors in recipes. “Don’t add too much extra of something even if it is your favorite, unless it is garlic; there’s always room for more garlic.”

Stigall also likes to spend a little time on the plate presentation, whether it’s takeout or a home-cooked meal. And, being a wine lover, he enjoys the appropriate pairing. “I typically drink a Chianti classico or other sangiovese wines with this dish. I like to call them ‘tomato wines’ because it is sometimes not easy to match wine with tomato dishes. A nebbiolo would also be good,” he says. “The Italians know what they are doing.”

Eggplant Fennel Parmesan Towers with Marinara

Serves 2 to 6


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 to 14 cloves peeled garlic (more or less, depending upon your preference), slivered or crushed
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 5 large leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)

For the eggplant and fennel

  • 1 eggplant, approximately 1 pound
  • Kosher salt as needed for drying out eggplant
  • 1 large head fennel
  • 1 cup Italian-style fine dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
  • ¾ cup shredded Parmigiano- Reggiano (plus extra for serving)
  • 3 large eggs (or just the egg whites for lower fat content)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparing the eggplant

About 2 hours before starting the meal, wash and cut the eggplant in ⅜-inch slices (leave the skin on) and discard the ends. Sprinkle each side of the slices with kosher salt and place on a baking rack over paper towels. This helps purge the eggplant of moisture. After 2 hours, wipe the eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove excess salt and any remaining moisture. Set slices aside and prepare the sauce.


Heat the olive oil in a nonreactive, large skillet. When oil is hot, add the garlic and stir. After about 30 to 45 seconds, add the can of tomatoes and the water. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the tomatoes in the pan to your preferred chunkiness. Add red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, red wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to slow boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 45 minutes or until thickened. While the marinara is simmering, prepare the eggplant and fennel.

Eggplant and fennel

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Wash the fennel and cut off the stalks, leaving just the bulb. Reserve some of the fronds to use as garnish. Trim a thin slice off the root end of the bulb and discard. Cut into ¼-inch slices and set aside (you might not get perfect rounds, and they will be different sizes, but that’s OK). In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, fennel seeds and ¾ cup Parmesan. In another bowl, combine the eggs and olive oil; beat until combined. Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg/oil mixture. Then dip the slice into the breadcrumb mixture to coat both sides. Place the eggplant slices onto the prepared baking sheets. Repeat same process with the fennel slices, using an extra baking sheet if needed. Bake 15 to 20 minutes (rotate halfway through baking). Veggies should be light brown and crunchy on the exterior.


On each plate, alternate slices of roasted eggplant with roasted fennel to desired height. Spoon the marinara on top of each tower. Top with additional Parmesan; garnish with the reserved fennel fronds and serve.