Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's for Dinner? Eggplant Parmigiana!

What's for Dinner?

Eggplant Parmigiana

 Eleanora's Eggplant Parmigiana
Courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

Eggplants have always fascinated me. The rich, deep royal purple color of the Black Beauties has wowed me enough to want to eat them.  Even as a little girl, I have a vivid memory of my mother placing an eggplant into our fridge.  After she closed the door, I tip toed my way over and re-opened the huge, massive door.  I peered in front of me, gazing through the glass produce bin.  Inside, I could see the large eggplant carefully lying sideways on the now crumpled parsley.  I couldn’t wait for her to prepare the eggplant for us to try. 

Years later, as a mother of my own children, this love of eggplants has carried on.  On several occasions I have prepared eggplants in a variety of ways, but never have I prepared the classic Eggplant Parmigiana.  Last year, and the year before, I grew some of these purple jewels in my own garden. I remember watching in amazement as the pastel purple flowers carefully turned into a deep, royal, colored fruit. Botanists consider them to be a fruit since the seeds are located on the inside. Did you know that the flowers of an eggplant are purple too? 

Maybe it’s the mounds of freshly grated aromatic cheese that entices me, or maybe it’s the eggplant that has captured my interest again. Either way, I was eager to prepare this dish for my family. Eggplant parmigiana is so good that both Sicily and Campania claim this dish as their native. While parmigiana means from Parma, this dish is not Parma cuisine.  So who the heck knows where this is from? What I can tell you is that this my favorite dish ever!  The next time someone asks me what I would want my last meal on earth to be, I know what to say.  For a now vegetarian, but once meat eater, this dish does have a strong meat-like flavor reminiscent of veal in every way.

Mmmmm....Pecorino Romano cheese!

In Italy, a very small, slightly larger than a zucchini eggplant is used for cooking instead of the larger, tougher skinned variety that we find in stores.   No matter what kind of eggplant you decide to use in this dish (or in any eggplant dish for that matter), make sure it is as fresh as possible.  When selecting your eggplant, grasp it into your hands and touch it to make sure that it is compact and not spongy.  Selecting produce should be a complete sensory experience so squeeze, look and smell away. 

*First of all, I’m going to start out by saying this.  DO NOT make this dish during dinner time and hope to serve it in a timely manner!!!  It is way too time consuming, especially with children underfoot.  Make during their nap time, or the night before (after they have gone to bed). I started this at about and we ate at .  It tasted even better to a starving family, that’s for sure.* 

Eggplant Parmigiana Recipe

  • Start out by first preparing the marinara sauce, and then move on to the eggplant parmigiana

Marinara Sauce: Makes 5-6cups and takes about 10 min to prep and about 40 min to cook.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28oz. each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fresh basil, leaves torn
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Heat oil in large heavy pot over medium heat.  Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add tomatoes, red-pepper flakes, 1 teaspoons salt, and some pepper.  Simmer, covered, until thick, 25 minutes.  Stir in herbs. 
Sauce can be stored for up to 3 days in refrigerator or frozen up to three months. At the point where the marinara is simmering for 25 minutes, I began to work on the breading of the eggplant.  Make sure to set your timer and occasionally stir the marinara to avoid burning. 

-         Here’s what I did.  I followed the recipe exactly, but I did not put the marinara in the food processor.  Instead, I used my spoon to mash up the tomatoes while they cooked.  The sauce was thicker and much meatier as a result. 

Eggplant parmigiana

  • Make sure to fry the breaded eggplant over high heat, so that excess oil is not as readily absorbed.  On a cookie sheet lay down several layers of paper towels, and let cooked eggplant drain.  This step is a must!

For Breading and Frying

2 cups fine plain fresh breadcrumbs ( I used pre-made Panko breadcrumbs from Whole Foods). I should add here that you really need 3-4 cups!  I was short with 2 cups.
½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (1oz)
1cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large eggplants, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

For Assembly

Marinara (see above recipe)
3 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese (12 oz.)
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (1 ½ oz.)

  1. Bread (30 min wait here at end): Combine breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, ½ teaspoon salt, and some pepper in 1 dish.  In second dish, add your flour, and in third dish, put your eggs.  You are making three separate “stations” for dipping.  In the end, you will have your ready-to-fry breaded eggplant. Next, dip your eggplant slice in flour (both sides), dip into next bowl of eggs, and into third bowl with breadcrumb-cheese mix.  Repeat with all eggplant slices and let sit on a plate for 30 min.
  2. Frying:  Heat your oil in a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat.      (When breadcrumbs sizzle when dropped in, oil is ready to pop!).  Get out a large cookie sheet lined with paper towels to place your fried eggplants on. Work in batches here, frying eggplant until golden brown on both sides (try 2-3 min per side), placing onto your paper towels.  Set timer each time that you start a batch so you don’t forget (or get distracted, *winks*).  If oil gets dirty, drain out into garbage and add more.  Preheat your oven to 375 while you are working on your last batch of fried eggplant.  Make sure to exercise care around stove at all times, but particularly when frying.  Hot oil can be dangerous, especially around children.
  3. Assembly: Once oven is preheated, spread ½ cup marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.  Arrange a layer of eggplant on top, over-lapping slightly. Top with 1 cup marinara.  Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and ¼ cup Pecorino Romano (or parm.)  Repeat twice to form layers with eggplant, sauce, and then cheeses.  Cover with foil ( I did not cover with foil and it turned out great).  Bake until bubbling about 30 min.  Uncover, and bake until cheese melts, about five minutes more.  Enjoy!
Photo Gallery

I used canned tomatoes for the sauce because finding good quality, local, and organic tomatoes is nearly impossible this time of year.  I really like Muir Glen products and used their tomatoes for the sauce.

Ben is my hero!  When possible, he takes on the role of entertainer while I cook.
The eggplant 1/4-inch slices
The breading station
Breaded eggplant ready to fry
Sarah gave me a hand with the marinara. Thanks babe! (stove is off and care is always taken around the hot stove!)
Gabriel wants in too

Our finished marinara
Breaded eggplant frying
Fried eggplant sits for 30 min on towels.
An inside look at some of the layers.  Mmmmmmm...
And more...
And more...
And even more...
And still more...
Finally, the eggplant parmigiana is in the oven and Sarah and I have fun while we wait
Here it is! At 8:15pm dinner is ready to be served.  Tired from a long, yet eventful day with Buddhist Monks in Placerville, I am now ready to fill my physical soul with some good food.

Divertiti ! (it means enjoy in Italian)

January 2011 Martha Stewart Living magazine pg. 76


Jenny Cave said...

Ben Fatto, Morgan!!! (No, I'm not warning you that Ben shouldn't eat too much of this or he'll expand...) it means 'Well done' in Italian...thought it was a clever pun for this lovely dish AND the expletive at the end of your blog!

We would have to use a replacement cheese and take a pass on the eggs, so I'm not sure how it would turn out doing it Vegan but it looks as good as it gets. I used to love the eggplant 'parmigiana' offerings on the hot bar at Whole Foods back in the pre-vegan days, it actually does taste meatier than some of the meat lasagnas they serve!

I wanted to make sure that your readers know that you always carefully supervise the children and only allow their help with the 'prep phases' of the recipes, they are never working near a hot stove or oven. Since these blogs are about involving the entire family and making cooking fun for everyone, you might want to include that disclaimer from time to time since your readership may grow. Just a suggestion. Everyone who KNOWS you knows that you fully realize how dangerous some kitchen equipment may be and the children are always closely supervised throughout while the other parent is taking the pictures. Those who don't know you may be swallowing their hearts, (like I did, briefly) particularly the grandmothers.

The step-by-step photos were wonderful (you know how much I love your 'olive' bowls...they look great in the photo! Your kitchen is warm, inviting, active and well-worn and you're already building wonderful memories for Jordan, Gabriel and Sarah that will last their lifetimes. I'm so glad that you have not only the lovely blogs but the charming photos (the kids tasting the cheese and looking for all the world like baby birds...)to document these wonderful times with the family. I hope they print out and tranfer to your 'journal' as nice as they look on the screen!

You're on a roll, Morgan, keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Tough act to follow after Jenny's comments here. This dish looks soooo good!I like the prep steps, the cooking and plating. And in between we have the bonus of watching the kids helping out. Jenny is feeding the kids some Pecorino Romano cheese looks just like a mommy bird feeding her chicks.

I recall when Jordan accompanied us to that super restaurant in Malibu. He ordered pasta, but insisted that he be provided with real Italian Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to grate on top of it. A junior foodie in the making.

And now he has turned pastry chef with his own cookie appearance on your blog.

Keep it up Morgan. This is so much fun watching all these blogs!!!