Monday, August 5, 2013

Eggplant Parmesean

Eggplant Parmesan is another one of those meals that I felt I owed to my Italian heritage to know how to make it right. The word “right” of course is a very subjective word, especially when it comes to food, but I've received enough positive responses to this recipe that I’m confident even if you don’t agree that it’s right, you will at least think it darn good. 

Most versions of this dish that I've come across cut the eggplant very thin before breading and frying it, and the result does not really have much eggplant taste, mostly because in order to get a substantial meal out of the thin slices, you have to layer dozens of them to the point that you are eating more breading than eggplant. It also ends up being a lot of work to slice, bread, fry and assemble all that eggplant. Solving this was ultimately very simple; I just cut the eggplant thicker, about 3/4 of an inch. 

The first time I worked with the thick slices, I had cut them the long way and this proved to make assembly a bit tricky. When you have dozens of the thin slices, it’s easy to fold, twist and pack them together in the baking dish, but the big pieces proved a challenge to fit them in place without resorting to butchering them into little chunks, thus defeating the whole purpose, which was to have large WHOLE slices that would allow you to taste the eggplant. From this bump in the road came the idea to instead slice the eggplant crosswise into rounds that would stack easily to form individual servings. Not only did that solve the assembly problem, but it makes serving a whole lot easier as well. 

On this particular day, I had the idea to make use of some crocks I've had sitting in storage (after making French onion soup in them once a million years ago…) to create a fun presentation, but it’s definitely not necessary to dirty so many more dishes. Just use a 9x13 baking dish and stack up each serving next to each other. You should be able to get 6-8 servings into one baking dish depending on the size of your eggplant. Note that in the picture above I have trimmed the eggplant rounds to a size that will fit in the crocks. This isn't necessary when using a baking dish, just assemble them with the larger rounds on the bottom layer. 

Share Contents Used

2 large eggplants
2-3 cups marinara sauce
Oil for frying
2-3 eggs
1.5 cups breadcrumbs
1 cup flour
1/2 cup grated parmesean
1 lb fresh mozzarella
Salt and pepper
1 tbs chopped fresh basil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice the eggplants into rounds approximately 3/4 in thick then lay each slice flat and cut off the skin. Prepare a breading line on your counter using three shallow bowls (pie plates work really well for this if you have them). Place the flour in the first bowl and the eggs (beaten) in the second. In the third bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan and a 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it reaches 300 degrees. Working along your breading line, take a slice of eggplant and dredge it in the flour to coat completely, shaking off any excess. Next, dip it in the egg to coat and then place in the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat all surfaces. Place the breaded eggplant in the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown and then remove to a sheet pan. Adjust the heat on your oil as needed to keep it neat 300 degrees. Repeat with all the eggplant. Once all the eggplant is fried and has cooled enough to handle, you can begin assembly. Slice the fresh mozzarella into disks around 1/8 inch thick. You want to have two slices of cheese for each serving of eggplant. My 1 lb ball of mozzarella was just enough for 6 servings with a bit left over for my daughter to nibble on. 

To assemble, place 2 tbs of sauce in the bottom of each crock (if using a baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce to coat the bottom of the dish) then place one slice of eggplant on top of the sauce. Top with another 2 tbs of sauce, then a slice of mozzarella and then sprinkle with the parmesean. Repeat one more time (eggplant, sauce, mozzarella, parmesean) and lastly top with a bit of chopped basil and a grind of black pepper. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until everything is heated through and the top layer of cheese has melted and browned in spots. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

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