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Erica Ashton's Eggplant Parmesan

This Savory Specialty Will Transport You to the Tables of Prego and the South of Italy

First, let’s clear up any confusion. The Italian name for eggplant parmesan – Parmigiana di Melanzane – actually has nothing to do with the Parma region or its eponymous cheese, regardless of the fact that it’s a key ingredient in this favorite dish. The word parmigiana is derived from the Sicilian word parmiciana, which refers to the wooden slats that overlay each other to make window shutters. It was the similar formation of the sliced melanzane, eggplant, in the dish that inspired the name. This is only the beginning of the disputed details of what has become a staple in Italy since the eggplant was said to arrive Sicily in the 15th century. Whether the original recipe even included parmesan cheese at all, whether to bread the eggplant before frying or not and whether the dish originated in Sicily at all or perhaps Parma – all of these things haughtily debated by passionate Italian foodies. 

What’s not up for debate is the universal love for eggplant parmesan. And this week, Chef Jon Ashton is bringing a very special version to the table as he prepares his wife, Erica’s (you know her as “Mrs. Spielberg”) personal recipe. The hot blend of savory cheeses and rich marinara sauce balanced by the earthy freshness of eggplant will transport you to those voyages to Italy you’ve been longing for and stir memories of long meals in Prego spent discussing experiences, wine and food.

Check the recipe below, gather your ingredients and join us for Sunday Cooking with Chef Jon Ashton this Sunday, October 25 on the Crystal Cruises Facebook page. We’ll see you in the kitchen.

Mrs. Spielberg’s Eggplant Parmesan
By Erica Ashton


3 pounds (1.36 kg) eggplant, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick 
3/4 cup (180 ml) good olive oil
3 tablespoons (7.2 grams) minced fresh thyme 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
3 cups (720 ml) marinara sauce, (homemade or Rao’s)
18 slices fresh mozzarella 
12 oz. (350 grams) grated fontina  
1 (5.2) oz. (150 grams) pkg. Boursin cheese 
3/4 cup (68 grams) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
2 cups (40 grams) fresh basil leaves, torn
6 slices white sandwich bread, cubed 1/2 inch
6 tablespoons (45 ml) butter 
1 spring fresh thyme 
1 garlic clove, peeled and bashed  

For serving:

2 cups (480 ml) marina sauce
1/2 cup (120 ml) good quality pesto (optional) 


Pre-heat oven 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).

Lay the eggplant in one layer on three sheet pans and brush each side with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove trays from oven. Turn the slices over and rotate the trays 180 degrees and place back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until tender. 

In a 10 x 14 x 2-inch baking dish, spoon one cup of the sauce and spread evenly on the bottom. Place a third of the eggplant on top in one layer. Scatter a third of the basil, a third of all the cheeses on top. Repeat twice, starting with the marinara sauce and ending with the parmesan, making sure each layer is evenly distributed.

Place cubed bread in a bowl.

Over low heat, melt the butter in a small saucepan with fresh thyme and garlic, and let it cook for a few minutes. Fish out the thyme and discard.  Pour the melted butter mixture over the bread cubes and toss evenly to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Spread the seasoned bread mixture evenly over the eggplant. Place on a baking tray and bake for 20 – 30 minutes.  Let rest 10 minutes to help cheese settle before serving.

To serve, add 1/2 cup warmed marinara sauce to a plate, top with slice eggplant Parmesan and drizzle the pesto around the sides.

Serves 6. 

Crystal’s Crystal@Home: A Virtual Cruise Experience program brings several elements of the renowned Crystal Experience directly to guests, wherever in the world they are. “Sunday Cooking with Chef Jon Ashton” represents the culinary excellence found aboard Crystal ships, as some of the greatest travel memories are created over the greatest meals.

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