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Eggplant Parm

 

Visiting our dear friends at their lake house I was designated the night’s cook.  I checked the fridge and found a couple of eggplant more than ready to be used.  At first I was just going to slice, bread and fry as my mom used to do – she insisted that fried eggplant tasted like fried oysters and who were we to argue – but then I remembered that I had brought a couple of jars of passata – that wonderfully rich Italian condensed tomato sauce so decided to look for enough other ingredients to make a version of eggplant parm.  However it was so hot, I didn’t want to turn the oven on so I thought why not give the grill a try……the eggplant would already to cooked and I would just need the heat to melted the cheese and give the flavors time to unite and give that delicious mixture of unctuous vegetable, rich sauce and melting cheese time to dance.

So, that’s what I did – I fried the eggplant, made a quick tomato sauce with the passata and fresh garlic and basil from the garden and sliced up a big hunk of mozzarella from the farmers market that I found in the cheese drawer of their well-stocked fridge.  Even found some pre-ground Parmesan to add that special sharp salty taste that gives that extra oomph to Italian dishes.  Put the mix together, heated up the grill, pulled the lid down and in less than a half flour we had a lovely almost Italian dinner on the deck.  Was my dish a classic – not really – but it sure was good.

Depending upon the amount of eggplant slices you have you can make a single layer, a double layer or even a triple layer of eggplant, cheese and sauce – always ending with a coating of sauce and a goodly amount of cheese to melt over it all.

You will also note that I don’t salt eggplant as many do – I’ve never found it necessary.  

By the way, just simply fried eggplant is a great easy dinner with the arugula on top and a bit of bread and cheese on the side.  And, you know what, the eggplant does kinda taste like friend oysters!

Just Plain Fried Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6 

2 large eggs

¼ cup milk

3 cups breadcrumbs (plain or seasoned, depending upon your preference)

½ cup Wondra flour

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut, crosswise, into slices about ⅜-inch thick 

About ½ cup olive oil for frying

Lemon quarters for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  

 

Combine the eggs and milk in a shallow dish, whisking to blend well.

Combine the breadcrumbs and flour in another shallow dish.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to blend.

Working with one eggplant slice at a time, dip it into the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off.  Then, dip it into the bread crumb mixture.  If you prefer a heavy coating, again dip into the egg and bread crumb mixture.  

Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  When very hot, but not smoking, begin adding the coated eggplant, without crowding the pan.  Fry, turning once, for about 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.  Transfer to a double layer of paper towel to drain.  If the oil gets too dark and filled with bits of the cooked coating, pour it out, wipe the pan clean with paper towel, and start again with fresh oil.

When all of the eggplant has been fried, transfer to a serving platter.  If you want to fancy it up, place a few handfuls of arugula in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil and the juice of ½ lemon.  Season with salt and pepper and mound on top of the eggplant. Serve with lemon quarters for drizzling on the eggplant.

If you want to make Eggplant Parm, generously coat a baking dish with olive oil.  Coat the bottom of the dish with you favorite marinara sauce, followed by a layer of eggplant and then a thin layer of mozzarella cheese and continue making layers until you’ve made as many layers as you wish, ending with a coating of sauce and a layer of mozzarella.  You can sprinkle in Parmesan at any point including on the top of the final layer of mozzarella. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until hot, bubbling and the top layer of cheese is beginning to brown.

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We had this magnificent eggplant with a stem end that looked almost ceramic but it had been around a bit too long.  I threw it on the grill, whole, waiting to decide what to do.  Aha!  My old favorite babaganoosh – as I say and spell it.  However, this time, I also cleaned out the fridge and found a container with 3 grilled carrots, 2 grilled Italian peppers, and 1 lonely grilled onion which I thought might just work with the grilled eggplant.  And, you know what, it was the best mix we had ever tasted.  The grilled carrots added a sweetness that had never been present in other variations.  Following is my version of the traditional recipe, but just as I always do, you can add and subtract to make your own personalized mix.  Traditionally, the eggplant flesh is chopped, but I just throw the whole mess into the food processor and do a couple of quick turns to blend.

1 large or 2 small eggplant, either grilled or roasted
2 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon roasted garlic (don’t worry, if you don’t have, use fresh)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Cayenne pepper or smoked paprika to taste – this is not traditional, but either one adds a little pizzazz
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley and/or fresh mint

Scrape the flesh from the eggplant into a bowl, chopping it into small chunks.  Add all of the remaining ingredients and mash together.  Stir in the parsley or mint or both.  You can add more or less of the lemon juice, garlic, and/or olive oil to make it your own.  Serve with toasted pita bread or crackers.

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The other day Uncle Nick at my favorite neighborhood store, Zingone’s, insisted that I buy some beautiful baby eggplant that he was proudly showing off.  One of the other regulars started to give me a cooking lesson on making a quick eggplant dish when Nick interrupted “she’s a cook, quit tellin’ her want to do, she knows.”  Well, then, of course, I had to buy some of his prized produce.  Steve doesn’t much like eggplant so I always try to think of something zesty to do with them that he will, perhaps, find more enticing.  This time I grilled them, whole, on my stovetop grill pan, and then tossed them with some chopped Campari tomatoes and red onion added some minced garlic and hot chiles along with whatever herbs were wilting in the fridge – some basil, chives, and oregano.  Sprinkle on some evo and then a bit of sherry vinegar – topped the salad with a handful of grilled shrimp and we had a simple, but oh so satisfying dinner.

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