September 14, 2009

Got together with two girlfriends Friday night. We each talked about our lives as we hadn’t gathered in awhile, but when I said “I spent the entire day making eggplant parmesian,” they both laughed like crazy. How could it take an entire day to make eggplant parm?

Rather than defend myself at the time (wine does not make for good debate skills,) I have opted to write about my day in eggplant.

But let’s go back two days earlier – when I baked two baguettes, planning to grind one or maybe both into bread crumbs. For the coating for the eggplant. Yeah. I know. You’re rolling your eyes.

After breakfast, I cut up the stale bread and put it through the food processor and made about 8 cups of fluffy crumbs. Thought about toasting them and reprocessing. Thought about it…. didn’t.

Went to the farm stand – found ten beautiful fairytale eggplant, about 1 lb. each. Then, to Whole Paycheck for local Blue Ridge fresh mozzerella. (Tried to get the mozz at the farm market, but they were sold out on three occasions!) Then to the Italian market for two huge chunks of excellent parmesian reggiano.

So, now it’s 12:30 and I haven’t had lunch. Stuck some almonds in my mouth and kept going.

Go out to the garden and pick about 4 lbs. of romas, a big bunch of parsley, and various basils – Genovese, pistou and even some purple. Get a million mosquito bites in the process.

Tossed the tomatoes in the big pan. Add to that, two bags of romas I froze as they ripened over the last three weeks. Start cooking the sauce. Chop all the herbs. Grate the cheese.

Get out the bowls, the sheet pans, the deep fryer. Slice the eggplant. Dredge, dip and coat. Fry each batch for 7-8 minutes. There were 12 batches. That’s 84 minutes.

At the same time, keep stirring the sauce. Put it through a food mill. Saute onion & garlic, sauce back in the pan. Cook another hour.

Wash a lot of dishes. A lot. Wonder when to sneak in that shower.

Cover the counter with a large baking dish and several small au gratins, to make individual eggplant parms – our own TV dinners. Cripes, I’m not doing all this work for just one dinner. Get that assembly line going.

Write cooking instructions on the foil covering. Rearrange the entire freezer to find room.

And that’s how it came to be 5:45pm on a Friday afternoon. I took a shower and met my friends at 6:30, after spending the entire day making eggplant parmesian.

Don’t let this post discourage you. Put on some good music. Or, as I did, listen to the podcasts backed up on the IPod. This American Life provided many laughs today. This eggplant parmesian is stellar. Super tasty. A big hit everytime it’s served. What could be better than a freezer-full of eggplant parmesian, all ready to pop in the oven?

Eggplant Parmesian

Makes one 9 x 13 baking dish. Serves 4.

These are more like eggplant stacks, but it’s what we call Eggplant Parmesian in our house.

For the eggplant
4 or 5 – firm, medium eggplant, especially heirloom varieties like fairy tale or white queen
3 c breadcrumbs
1 c flour
12 large eggs
1 c freshly grated parmesian
1/2 c chopped Italian parsley
1/2 c chopped fresh basil
Salt & Pepper
1.5 qts. canola oil

For the sauce
10# fresh roma tomatoes (or three cans of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped)
3 Tbls olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, diced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 oz tomato paste
1/2 c chopped fresh basil

For the stacks
1-2 balls of fresh mozzerella, sliced in 24 pieces

Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1″ thick. Peeling is unnecessary.
Note: If the eggplant are very firm and fresh, salting is unnecessary. If the eggplant are a bit wrinkled, stack in a colander, salting between layers, and compress for about an hour.

Prepare three big bowls. Add flour, salt & pepper to the first bowl. Crack the eggs in the second bowl, add the cheese, and whisk until thick and incorporated. Toss the herbs and bread crumbs in the third bowl. Dredge the eggplant in the flour – pressing it in. Then dip in the eggs, then in the bread. Place the breaded eggplant on a sheet pan, lined with parchment paper. Repeat until one sheet pan is filled, then start frying.

Prepare another sheet pan by lining it with paper towels.

In a deep pan, heat canola oil to 360. Fry eggplant for 3-4 minutes per side. Allow the oil to come back to temperature between batches. Drain on paper towels.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Cut tomatoes in half, lengthwise. Put in a deep 5 qt covered pot on medium heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. When the tomatoes have softened, put them through a food mill to remove skins and seeds.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in the same deep pot the tomatoes were in, and once wilted, add back the milled tomatoes, paste, crushed red pepper and salt to taste. Cook at a slow simmer for about an hour. Toss in the chopped basil for the last 10 minutes.

Ladle some sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Place 12 pieces of eggplant in the dish, put a piece of mozzerella on top of each slice, sprinkle with parmesian, douse with sauce, and put another round of eggplant
around the pan, mozzerella on top of that, parm, sauce, and finally ending with a third round of eggplant and mozzerella on top (no sauce.) Cover with parchment paper, then with aluminum foil.

Place in a preheated 375 oven for about 30 minutes, remove the foil & parchment and cook five to ten more minutes to bubble up the mozzerella on top.

Let everything rest for about 10 min. before serving, to allow it to come together.

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