I have an entire cabinet full of old cooking magazines, mostly Fine Cooking. A couple of weeks ago I pulled out twelve of them, and vowed to make one recipe from each every month and then throw them out one by one. We’ll see how it goes.
Last night I prepared eggplant parmesan (excuse me, Parmigiana), one of Joe’s favorite dishes. His mother used to make it all the time when he was growing up. I don’t remember if she ever gave me her recipe–she probably did, but I’ve lost it–or whether I’ve tried making it. I’ve prepared my own southern hick version a few times–dip eggplant slices in flour and fry them, lay them in a cooking dish, pour some jarred pasta sauce over them, throw a few slices of provolone over the top, and bake. Not bad for a quick weeknight supper, but not very authentic–and certainly not even close to what my mother-in-law would make.
I warned him ahead of time that this eggplant parmesan would be different from his mother’s. That’s OK, he said; I’m sure it will be delicious. I was pretty confident that it would be, since I don’t think I’ve ever made anything from Fine Cooking that wasn’t good.
Serves 6 as a first course; 4 as a main course
FOR THE EGGPLANT
2 1/2 lb. eggplant (about 4 small or 2 medium-large)
3 cups olive oil (or a blend of olive and canola oils)*
FOR THE SAUCE
3 Tbs. extra-version olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
3 1/2 lb. plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped; or two 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), drained**
12 large fresh basil leaves, torn in half
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups lightly packed freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 1/4 oz.)
*I got a small bottle of light olive oil and combined it with canola oil; AND **I opted for the canned tomatoes.
Salt the eggplant: Peel the eggplant and cut each crosswise into 1/4-inch slices and sprinkle generously with salt. Top with more layers of eggplant and salt until you run out of slices (you’ll end up with five or six layers). Let the colander sit in the sink or over a large bowl for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. The salt will draw out water and reduce the eggplant’s ability to absorb oil.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Heat the 3 Tbs. oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and barely golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 tsp. salt. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down into a sauce, 20 to 25 minutes. If the sauce begins to dry up before the tomatoes break down, add warm water 1 Tbs. at a time. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick, chunky sauce, 5 to 10 minutes more. (Too much liquid in the sauce will make the finished dish watery.) Turn off the heat, remove the garlic, and stir in the basil leaves. Season to taste with more salt, if necessary, and set aside.
Fry the eggplant: Dry the eggplant by lining a large plate with a paper towel and setting a few slices on it. Top with another paper towel and layer on a few more slices. Repeat until you run out of slices.
Attach a candy thermometer to the side of a 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Add the olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375 degrees F, add as many eggplant slices as will fit comfortably in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pan. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by dipping a tip of one eggplant slice in the oil. If it immediately sizzles, the oil is ready.
Cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute more on the second. Working quickly, pick up each slice with a slotted spoon and press the back of another large spoon against the slice to squeeze out as much oil as possible. (I did this for a while, but eventually I just started taking them out with tongs and letting the oil drip a little bit before putting it on the plate.) Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the slices are fried, layering the fried eggplant between paper towels and adjusting th heat as necessary to maintain the frying temperature.
Assemble and bake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Layer about one-third of the eggplant slices so they overlap slightly on the bottom of a 10×8-inch (or smaller size) baking dish. With the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread about one-third of the tomato sauce in a very thin layer over the eggplant. Evenly sprinkle about half of the mozzarella and 1/3 cup Parmigiano. Make one last layer with the remaining eggplant, tomato sauce, and Parmigiano. Bake until the cheese has melted evenly and the top is bubbly, with browned edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
(Fine Cooking, Aug/Sept 2009, p. 78)
When the boys saw me frying the eggplant slices, they thought I was making potato chips. Truthfully, just the fried pieces of eggplant alone would have made a great side dish. (we sampled a few. It was hard not to.) Joe was surprised that they were so thin, and that there would be no breading on them. “Well, without breading, it’s not REALLY eggplant parmesan, is it?” I said yes, that this magazine assured me it is very much authentically Italian to make it this way. I’m not sure he quite believed me.
Puttin’ it all together…
This got a unanimous thumbs-up. The boys said, “Hey, we could have this on a Friday during Lent!” Yes, we could, if I ever have time to make this on a Friday. This one is best saved for a weekend, at least at our house. Truthfully, the part that was the most time-consuming was frying the eggplant, because I could only cook a few slices at a time. Next time I make this I might use a bigger pan, and hopefully I can do this part faster. The rest of it was pretty simple and didn’t take long; even the sauce. This will for sure be a make-again meal.
The Finished Product
Everyone will be back in school this week. I’m looking forward to getting into a normal routine again, and I hope I’ll have time to post here every week or so. We’ll see! Between my new interest in running (For the record, I had a TERRIBLE run this morning. My feet and ankles were killing me and I could barely run a mile. Last week I was up to 3 1/4 miles, so needless to say, after today’s failed run I felt like crying. I guess runners have their good days and bad days…) and my recently rekindled
obsession love for geocaching, it might be harder to fit blogging in. Everything in moderation, right?
I hope you all have a restful and safe Labor Day, and all the best to teachers and students who are starting a new school year!