Eggplant: Is it an egg? Is it a plant? I think that was a Seinfeld comment. Though I may be wrong on that, but it illustrates the love/hate history of the eggplant.
I vaguely remember Mom making eggplant very occasionally. I suspect it was a Lenten meal and pretty basic. I’m picturing broiled lengthwise planks to which some cheese (yellow. Velveeta ®? Cheddar?) melted on top at the end. That’s all I can tell you and I’m not even sure that’s accurate. Some kind of tomato sauce? I don’t think she made it in my teens so it’s a stretch to pull up an image. I don’t think I disliked it but it wasn’t on my request list.
With all that in mind, I have no clue what prompted me to make Eggplant Parmesan. I suspect some TV chef lured me into the dish and I took the bait. When I tell people I’m making an eggplant dish and they blanch or they just openly say they don’t like it, I am quick to respond, “Then you clearly aren’t a god because eggplant is the food of the gods.” Aren’t I clever…?
Eggplant’s greatest attribute is that it absorbs the flavors of the dish adding a texture and delicate flavor that enhances most vegetable dishes. Tomatoes, garlic, onion, and basil always work well with eggplant.
When Claire was living in Springfield, MO, we went for a visit and she was excited to introduce us to her new beau. She was also craving some of Pop’s cooking, specifically Eggplant Parmesan and Rumakis. Odd combination but the girl knows good food. Luckily, Brandon (now son-in-law Brandon) liked both dishes. I’m not saying disliking eggplant would have been a game changer but I like to think I played a part in their budding relationship. At least, I’ll keep telling myself that.
Reflection #1: Pick firm, unbruised eggplants that are a deep purple. Many produce departments use lights to make things look better. That isn’t generally a problem but I never buy an eggplant until I get it away from that light. Bruises and a dull color are a lot more obvious away from the produce rack lighting.
Reflection #2: I once made an Eggplant Parm that was pretty bitter. I’ve since read that salting the cut eggplant will remove some moisture and the bitterness. If you’re reading my entries you know I don’t like that much salt even if you rinse it thoroughly. I’ve concluded (through no scientific investigation) that peeling the eggplant with a paring knife instead of a carrot peeler solves the problem. I think I’m taking a deeper cut into the flesh and maybe the bitterness is nearer the outside. I don’t get bitter eggplant so I decree this a solution.
The only eggplants I’ve ever worked with are the big purple ones and occasionally the long slender Asian ones. The latter are harder to find around here but a great addition or star in most oriental dishes. They also don’t need to be peeled. There are many other varieties out there so don’t be shy.
Eggplant Parmesan for 4
2 eggplants, large and smooth
8 Tbs olive oil
15 oz ricotta cheese (near the cottage cheese in a similar container)
¾ c parsley, chopped
2 c parmesan, grated
½ c onion, diced
1 Tbs garlic, chopped
23 oz tomato sauce (1 regular sized can and 1 smaller 8 oz can)
1 Tbs Italian herbs or a combination of thyme, oregano and basil
1 lb mozzarella, sliced thin or grated
- Heat a large skillet and add 2 Tbs of olive oil. Peel one eggplant (see Reflection #2 above) and slice about ½ inch thick. Don’t cut the second one yet since they brown fairly quickly.
Reflection #3: Eggplant is a sponge and will soak up as much olive oil as you give it – and quickly. If 2 Tbs seems too much, use less. But whatever you do, add the slices and quickly turn them over and try to cover as many of the slice as much as you can. I often drizzle more on the ones that missed out.
- Add the eggplant slices to cover the bottom of the skillet. You’ll need to do it in 2 batches. Turn occasionally until they are soft and maybe a little browned.
- Repeat with the other eggplant.
- While browning the eggplant, sauté the onion until soft and add the garlic. When you can smell the garlic add the tomato sauce and herbs. Once it simmers, turn it off and set aside.
- Also, while browning the eggplant, beat two eggs in a mixing bowl. Add the ricotta, parsley, and 1 c parmesan. Mix thoroughly.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a 9×13 pan, put a layer of cooked eggplant in the bottom topping each piece with a dollop of the ricotta mixture. Pour on half the sauce and top with a layer of mozzarella. Sprinkle on half the parmesan.
- Add another layer of everything in the same order. I generally get 2 full layers. If there is more eggplant either discard or portion the other ingredients to allow for an additional layer down the middle.
- Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so to allow the juices to settle back in. Serve with garlic bread and a nice salad.
Reflection #4: Claire mentioned that in Springfield I added Kalamata olives, a family favorite. It’s certainly a good addition – say ½ or ¾ c Kalamata olives, chopped.