This past weekend Michele found some real nice eggplant at the farmers market. One of my favorite comfort foods is a simple eggplant parm…warm, tomato-ey, gooey, cheesy…all of the above. There is a little bit of frying to be done to accomplish this dish, but with a system and a tip or two, it’s not too bad, and, of course, the end-product justifies the preparation needed.
You’ll need some spaghetti sauce for this recipe. Now, I have done it both ways. When I had a lot of eggplant and it was going to be a great big honking dish of parm, I will usually make a tomato sauce from scratch. This recipe will be using a regular sized jar of prepared tomato sauce (which now comes in a huge variety of flavors). There’s no hard and fast rule for “it’s got to be home-made sauce…I figure about one jar of sauce for every average-sized eggplant.
You know how an eggplant is usually bigger on one end than the other? What I’ll typically do is cut full slices from the small end and full slices from the big end also, but these slices are then cut into half to make two half circle slices. This makes the frying of the larger pieces a little more manageable and helps to better fit the fried pieces of eggplant into layers as you build your parm.
One large eggplant, unpeeled, cleaned and sliced into ½” or ¾” slices, if slices are too big, they can be cut in half to make two semi-circles
One jar (1 lb. 10 oz.) of your favorite tomato sauce
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup cooking wine (red preferred)
½ cup brown, or turbinado, sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of dried basil
½ cup vegetable oil
One stick of butter
2-3 large fresh eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 cup white all-purpose flour
2-3 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 pound of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
Preheat oven to 325°F.
For the sauce:
Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, empty your sauce, garlic, wine, sugar, 4 tbsps. of butter, and the basil. Stir well to combine and simmer while the eggplant is being fried, stirring occasionally. If there are other additions you’d like to make to the sauce, this would be the time to do it. (Hint: If your using “jar” sauce, put the cover back on the jar after emptying, turn the jar upside-down on the counter and wait about 10 minutes. There will be about another ½ cup or so accumulated that can be added to the sauce in the pan.)
For the eggplant:
Place three medium bowls, or high-sided plates, on your counter. In the first bowl, place the flour; second bowl, two eggs, beaten with the tablespoon of water; and in the third bowl, the breadcrumbs. For each slice of eggplant, first coat with flour, then dip in the egg mixture, and finally, coat with the bread crumbs. In a large heavy skillet, or griddle, on medium heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add an approximate tablespoon of butter and lightly stir to mix. Fry each piece until golden brown on both sides, replenishing the oil and butter as needed. Watch your temperature carefully and monitor the doneness of each piece to assure that none are burned.
For the assembly:
Spray a medium covered oven-proof casserole (1 ½ to 2 ½ quart) dish with non-stick cooking spray (butter or olive oil flavored). You could, absolutely, use a 9” x 13” cake-style pan for this, too. I just like the depth of layers you get when you use a higher-sided dish. Ladle a small scoop of sauce into the bottom of the dish. Arrange some slices of fried eggplant in a single layer in the dish, attempting to cover as much area in a single layer as possible. Cut and section a single piece to fill in the gaps as necessary. Ladle more sauce on top of the slices. Cover generously with shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Repeat layering until all pieces are used up, finishing with the last of the sauce and the two kinds of cheese on top. For one average sized eggplant and one jar of “doctored” sauce, you should get about three, or four, good layers.
Bake covered at 325°F for one hour. Depending on how full the dish is, you may want to put a piece of tin foil under the dish in the oven as there is often a tendency for some sauce to dribble over the sides. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is fully melted and getting crispy, but not burned. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 30 minutes. Just long enough to make a salad and tear up some crusty bread to go with your eggplant for dinner. There will always be the eggplant flavor in this dish, but you can make it your own in how you customize your sauce.
In quoting Frank Barone: “Holy Crap!” I can’t believe a whole month has gone by. I took a trip to New Hampshire (great trip to my sister Peg’s house), I’ve gotten involved in a couple dozen things at my church, work is still pretty (confusing) crazy, we’re looking after Mom and she’s looking for a dog, and it never ends…and, here it is another month and I really need to post a few things and get back in the groove, so to speak, regarding Comfort (Able) Foods.
There will be lots to look forward to in the upcoming posts. There’ll be Holiday stuff, more recipes from the “red-book” cookbook, more family recipes & secrets, and more comfort…Keep your head up, keep the faith, and, Peace…Dave