With its crunchy texture, meaty flavor and gooey cheese topping, eggplant Parmesan is a crowd-pleaser. The sides you serve with it should please, too, while offering something different in terms of feel, flavor and food groups. Sides made with bright vegetables, smooth pasta and tart sweetness cleanse the palette between bites of salty eggplant. Dish up at least two other options in addition to the entree for a meal that's balanced and loaded with interesting texture.
Salads and Starters
While the main course cools, dish out salads of fresh and crunchy ingredients. If you opt for plain green salad topped with diced vegetables, skip the store-bought dressing and make a light, lemon vinaigrette -- eggplant parm can be heavy, so this salad is a fitting companion. Caesar salad is also frequently served with Italian dishes. Use a light hand with dressing and croutons so as to save room for the main course. Or preview some of the entree's flavors with Caprese salad of tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella. If the weather is cold and fresh veggies are scarce, start the meal with a light soup like white bean and kale.
Bread and Pasta
Compared to some Italian entrees, eggplant Parmesan is light on carbohydrates -- leaving room on your plate for soft and filling sides. Serving both bread and pasta is overkill, so choose one. If you pick the former, look for a crusty loaf flecked with rosemary or olives, or top slices of Italian bread with a mixture of butter, salt and minced garlic and bake them until the edges brown. Serve penne with chunky tomato sauce, or sprinkle grated cheese over thin spaghetti and place squares of the eggplant dish on top of nests of warm noodles.
Meat and Seafood
Meaty eggplant is plenty satisfying -- but serving a side of meat or seafood might satisfy the carnivores at the table. These sides also add protein to the meal and allow you to stretch your eggplant casserole even further. Serve bite-size meatballs or chunks of Italian sausage in reserved tomato sauce, or opt for a lighter side of seafood. Rather than serving plain pasta under the eggplant, flavor it with clams and make it a true side dish. "Food & Wine" suggests adding shelled clams and their juices to spaghetti seasoned with garlic and crushed red pepper.
You won't be hungry when your plate is clear, and you might not be hungry an hour after that, but it's not a true Italian meal without a final bite of something sweet. Rich chocolate cake or dense brownies will probably taste too heavy after this meal. Opt for something light like pistachio gelato or almond biscotti. Or choose a dessert that's a bit more decadent but traditionally Italian. Try making zabaglione; it's made of egg yolks, sugar and Italian wine, and when made with lemon or raspberries, it's just creamy and tart enough to finish your meal on the sweetest possible note.
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