My younger son loves eggplant Parmesan. Once I prepared it for him using half eggplant and half chicken as a base. He liked it even better, and has requested it many times. If you have never tried this Parmesan combo, it may become a favorite of yours too.

Eggplant Chicken Parmesan

1/2 lb. fresh eggplant

1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken tenders/tenderloins)

Kosher salt

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. fine breadcrumbs

4 large eggs, beaten

2 Tbsp. water

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into ¼-inch rounds

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese (if you double this recipe using a 9-by-13-inch casserole, only use ¾ c. Parmesan instead of 1 c.)

1/2 c. packed fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Cut eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Lay out on paper towels and lightly salt. Add paper towels to the top and put some weight on the eggplant slices to drain them of excess moisture before cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare the marinara sauce.

14 1/2 oz. diced tomatoes

2 Tbsp. red wine

2 cloves, garlic crushed and finely diced

1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 Tbsp. sugar

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1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

Puree canned tomatoes in a blender. Add all remaining ingredients and buzz again. Pour into a saucepan under medium heat and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

In a wide, shallow bowl, combine flour and breadcrumbs. Mix well. Pour eggs into another wide shallow bowl. Add water and beat thoroughly. Add ½ inch extra virgin olive oil to a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Not too hot. Don’t let it smoke.

Note: If you are making the chicken and eggplant dish, prepare the chicken the same way as the eggplant using the flour, egg wash and frying in olive oil as described below.

Dredge the eggplant slices first in the flour mixture, then in the egg wash. Working in batches, slide coated eggplant into hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels.

Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bottom of a 9-by-9-inch glass baking dish, spread 1 c. marinara sauce. Top with 1/2 of the eggplant slices. Top with mozzarella slices and 1/2 c. marinara. Sprinkle with half the fresh basil leaves. Make a second layer of eggplant slices, topped with remaining marinara and remaining fresh basil. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese.

Bake 30 minutes or until cheese has melted and the top is slightly browned. Allow to rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving. I like to let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes. Serves four hungry souls.

Pair this with Toccata’s 2012 Santa Barbara County Toccata Classico, an artful blend of California-grown Italian grape varieties, made in the Super-Tuscan style. The wine has excellent structure and a long finish. This Classico embodies characteristics of red and black fruit, black cherry, smoky leather, earth and spice. Earning 91 points from Wine Enthusiast this year, this “classic” will go with just about any Italian-style cuisine.

Enjoy!

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at jd.finley@comcast.net.

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