Visit any old-school red-sauce joint in America and it's a given that the ubiquitous eggplant Parmesan has been on its menu for decades. And for good reason - meaty eggplant encased in a crunchy pan-fried coating, served with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella offer up a perfect balance of crispy, savory, cheesy goodness that will never go out of style. Take those same flavors and sandwich them between toasted Italian bread with a simple lemon-spinach salad and prepare to be amazed.
Trim ends off eggplant, peel, and slice into eight ½” rounds. Quarter lemon.
Bread the Eggplant
Heat vegetable oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Set up a breading station: place flour in one mixing bowl, heavy cream in a second mixing bowl, and panko in a third bowl. Season all three bowls with ¼ tsp. salt. Coat eggplant slices in flour, then dip in heavy cream, and then in panko. Place coated slices on a plate. Thoroughly wash one bowl to use for tossing spinach later.
Cook the Eggplant
Line a plate with a paper towel. Test oil temperature by adding a pinch of panko to it. It should sizzle gently. If it browns immediately, turn heat down and let oil cool. If it doesn't brown, increase heat. Working in batches, carefully place 2-4 eggplant slices in hot oil and fry 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove cooked slices to prepared plate and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Wipe pan clean.
Warm Sauce and Toast Italian Rolls
Slice Italian rolls, place on prepared baking sheet, and brush with 2 tsp. olive oil. Bake 5 minutes, or until warm and crispy. Alternatively, place rolls in your toaster and set to desired doneness. Return pan from cooking eggplant to medium heat. Add pizza sauce to pan and heat through, 1-2 minutes.
Prepare the Spinach
In cleaned mixing bowl, toss spinach with juice of a lemon quarter or two (to taste), half the Parmesan cheese, 2 tsp. olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
Plate the Dish
Place bottom half of Italian roll on a plate. Top with 3-4 slices cooked eggplant, 2 mozzarella slices, and pizza sauce. Serve salad on side, and sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese on top of pizza sauce and salad. Cover sandwich with top roll. Serve with remaining lemon quarters.