Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Divine Eggplant Parmesan (and quick tomato sauce)

Divine Eggplant Parmesan
Serves: 6-8
Devine Eggplant Parmesan
I planted one single eggplant “tree” this summer – or at least it seems to be becoming a tree. I had no idea how large the plant would become. But then you have to figure the weight of 2-4 eggplants swinging off a single branch would have to produce a trunk of measurable size to hold the eggplants up! Funny, I certainly did not think that one through when I planted the little 3-inch seedling.  Now I have many eggplants and they are gorgeous – worthy of framing I think. Gary suggests eating them instead – and he loves eggplant Parmesan. I mean who wouldn’t? It even has vegetables and I can get kids to eat this meal. 
Eggplant on the "tree"
On the other hand I hate soggy eggplant Parmesan –you know, the ones that are just gooey and lumpy. The secret is to oven bake the eggplant slices.  Most recipes call for the breaded eggplant slices to be pan-fried before being sauced and baked. The problem is that even with shallow frying in hot oil and usually in batches, it turns the eggplant soggy, even if salted and pressed beforehand to rid it of water. But, if the eggplant Parmesan is oven-fried, it can all be cooked at once and because I use only 6 Tb vegetable oil, the eggplant stays light and crisp. Avoid using olive oil, as the flavor will overwhelm the wonderful eggplant.

If you are not growing eggplants in your garden, choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. They are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay.
The key ingredient!
This meal can definitely take some time to prepare but it is fun to make, healthy and saves for the next day dinner or lunch or can freeze beautifully. For the tomato sauce, you can use my quick one below or one of your favorites or store-bought brand.
  • 2 globe eggplants (2 pounds), sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3-4C plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1½ C (3 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
  • 6 Tb vegetable oil
  • 4 C tomato sauce (see below – divided use)
  • 8 oz. shredded whole-milk mozzarella (divided)
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, torn just before serving (optional)

Toss the ¼ inch eggplant slices from 2 pounds of eggplant with 2-3 tsp kosher salt and set individually on top of several paper towels to drain for 40-60 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust two oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions; place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack, heat oven to 425 degree F. Yes, heat the baking sheet in your oven while it is warming!
Salted eggplant slices
Combine 1 C all-purpose flour and 1 tsp pepper in a zip-lock bag. Beat 4 large eggs into a shallow dish.  A pie plate works well. Combine 4C dried breadcrumbs, 1 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese, ¼ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper in a second shallow dish.

Prepare your tomato sauce – either from recipe below, your own favorite made or store-bought.

Pat the eggplant slices dry after 40-60 minutes, turn over and blot other side thoroughly.  It is important to get out as much liquid as possible. Place the eggplant slices into zip-lock bag with flour, shake, remove slices, shaking off excess and place in egg dish. Coat with egg mixture; allow excess to drip off and place in breadcrumb mix. Coat both sides thoroughly, pressing to adhere. Place on a wire rack while you do the same with all slices.

Remove the preheated baking sheets from your oven; pour 3 Tb vegetable oil onto each sheet, tilting to coat entire surface. Immediately add coated eggplants to hot sheets and bake in oven until well browned, about 20 minutes. Flip slices over, rotate baking sheets, and bake another 10 minutes.
Browned to perfection
Spread 1 C tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Put half the eggplant slices over the tomato sauce. Put 1 C tomato sauce over eggplant and sprinkle 1C (half) of shredded Mozzarella cheese over. Place remaining eggplant in the dish and dot with another 1C tomato sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so that it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with ¼ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 C of mozzarella.

Place the dish in the lower middle of the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and well browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the optional basil over the top and cool 10 minutes before serving. Pass the remaining 1 C tomato sauce and ½ C Parmesan cheese separately for guests to add.
Ready to eat!
This is perfect served with Barbera, Chianti, Sangiovese or Syrah. As it takes a bit of time to put together, it is equally important for the chef to sip on a little wine while preparing this amazing and divine eggplant parmesan. 

Buon Appetito!


Quick Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 Cups 

  • 3Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 tsp minced fresh basil
  • 4 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • ½ tsp sugar

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and sauté about 2 minutes until fragrant but not browned. Stir in crushed and diced tomatoes with their juice. Add red pepper flakes and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until tomatoes break apart and sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, basil and oregano. Taste and season with additional salt as needed.

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