A few weeks ago I posted about my first summer harvest; including the first eggplant of the year. With the heat wave we’ve been having the eggplant have really switched on. This past week I harvested 3 lbs and there are tons of flowers and fruits in the chute. It looks like this will be the summer of eggplant. I’ve been doing a bit of research on the ways to store it for later use. But I figured I’d get started with one of my favorite recipes of all time; eggplant parmesan.
This is a recipe I got out of a Betty Crocker cookbook back when I was in college. It’s a lasagna-type dish, without ricotta and with breaded and fried eggplant in place of noodles. It’s a bit of work to make, generates a rather large mess, and is by no means low-calorie. But oh is it worth it, and it makes enough to feed 6-8 people (or 2 people for 3-4 days).
Here’s what you need:
1-2 lbs of eggplant (usually 1 large Italian or 5-6 Japanese)
1/4 cup of milk
1-2 cups flour
1-2 cups bread crumbs
6-8 tbsp olive oil
1-2 jars marinara sauce
1 cups shredded Italian cheese (I use a combo of mozzarella and Trader Joes quattro formaggio)
A handful of fresh basil or parsley
Salt and Pepper
The labor intensive part of the recipe is breading and pan-frying the eggplant; but that’s what makes it so delicious. Start by preparing your breading stations. Put the flour and bread crumbs into (separate) wide-flat dishes. Stir a bit of salt and pepper into each. In a third wide-flat dish beat the 2 eggs, then beat in the milk. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Next slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch thick strips or rounds, depending on your pan/preference. Bread them by dousing in flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs. Heat 1-2 tbsp of oil in a large skillet, then fry the eggplant in a single layer. Cook until the they start to get tender inside and brown and crispy outside, about for 2-3 minutes on each side. I usually prepare enough to fit in the pan, set them to fry, and begin breading the next batch.
As they come off the heat set them on paper towels to drain and immediately sprinkle with salt. As you are batch frying, the eggplant will soak up all the oil and leave fried bread crumbs in the pan. Wipe out the pan between batches and add a bit more oil. This requires a deft hand; too much and the eggplant will be soggy and greasy, too little and it won’t brown.
Once all the eggplant is done, you can start building the lasagna. Spread a thin layer of marinara in a 8×8 glass baking dish, then layer eggplant, sauce, and cheese in that order. Make your layers of sauce and cheese thin so you can get more in. Repeat until the pan is full, making sure to end with sauce then cheese. Make the final layer of cheese a bit thicker so you get a toasty-cheesy top and seal in all the juices. Crack some fresh pepper over the top, and bake at 350 until it is bubbly and toasty brown, about 35-45 minutes.
When it comes out of the oven, let cool for a few minutes. Cut a 3 to 4 inch square for each serving. Top with fresh basil or parsley, a nice olive oil, and a bit more cracked pepper. This dish capitalizes on the tastes and texture of the eggplant. It has a unique, meaty-pungency that is complemented by the tomato sauce. If you are careful with the frying, it also maintains a good ‘bite’ to it. This a hearty and satisfying meal, best served with a light salad, some chilled melon, and a fruity pinot noir or a crisp, lightly hopped amber ale.