John Bongiovi, Sr.—yes, that’s rocker Jon Bon Jovi‘s dad—is spilling his family’s secrets. Well, family cooking secrets, that is.
The father of three sons (above, l-r, with John Sr. at center left) Anthony, Jon and Matthew, is the founder of Bongiovi Pasta Sauces, which is modeled after his longtime Italian family recipe. The homemade sauce is a staple in the Bongiovi household, with the patriarch whipping up recipes using the marinara.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE (on newsstands now), we caught up Bongiovi, who shared a beloved dish and dished on his famous family.
How did you go from making this sauce for Sunday dinners to bottling and selling it?
“The idea of producing the sauce has been an idea for many years, and I have been told time and time again that I needed to make this happen. It wasn’t until my son Anthony came to me and convinced me it was time to do it. Before moving forward, I had two conditions that had to be met before bringing it to the shelves: First, you had to be able to do a blind taste test and not know the difference between the jarred version and mine, which came directly off the stove. Second, I wanted to be able to give back to charity, which is why we have become an avid supporter of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.”
How long has your sauce recipe been in the family?
“It has been passed down through the generations. I would watch my father when I was growing up as he would tell stories about how he learned from his mother.”
What dish does Jon ask for specifically?
“I would have to say the eggplant lasagna comes first (see below for recipe). He eats very healthy and this is a dish that is on the lighter side, plus it’s a healthier alternative to traditional pasta lasagna.”
So, does Jon cook?
“Let’s just say he cleans a mean dish.”
Want to make Jon’s favorite dish at home? The patriarch shared his family’s recipe with PEOPLE. “This is a family staple on holidays and special occasions. I now have to make an extra tray so my boys can take home leftovers.”
John Bongiovi Sr.’s Eggplant Parmesan
8 large eggs, divided
2 (1-lb.) eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise ¼-in. thick
1 (15-oz.) container Italian-style bread crumbs
1 cup each vegetable oil and olive oil, divided
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, divided
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme, divided
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (10-oz.) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 (24-oz.) jars marinara sauce
1 (8-oz.) package shredded mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Beat 5 eggs in a bowl. Dip sliced eggplant into eggs, then bread crumbs, to coat thoroughly.
2. In a large skillet on medium high, heat ½ cup vegetable oil and ½ cup olive oil. Add 3 to 4 eggplant slices and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. Repeat until half the slices have been cooked, then discard oil and wipe pan with paper towels. Heat remaining 1 cup oil and cook remaining eggplant in batches.
3. In a skillet, sauté the sliced mushrooms in 1 tbsp. olive oil until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, 1 tbsp. oregano, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper and ½ tbsp. thyme. Cook for another 2 minutes, then set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix ricotta cheese, 3 eggs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, spinach, the mush- room mixture and remaining oregano and thyme.
5. Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in a 9×13-in. baking dish. Layer a third of the eggplant slices on top, overlapping the pieces slightly. Add half the ricotta mixture and then 1 cup marinara sauce on top. Repeat with another layer of eggplant, ricotta and sauce.
6. Top with final layer of eggplant and 2 cups marinara sauce. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and remaining ½ cup of Parmesan.
7. Cover with aluminum foil coated with cooking spray, and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.
8. Remove pan from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with basil leaves, cut into squares, and serve.
Serves: 6 to 8
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
For more on the Bongiovi family’s recipes, pick up the current issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.