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From The Archives - EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

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From The Archives - EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

In May I planted fourteen tomato plants in my vegetable garden. I didn't do it for any particular reason, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. They were little plants, and I was excited for the spring and the promise of summer vegetables. It's September now and I'm practically drowning in tomatoes. Every day I go out to the garden and come back in with this:

See what I mean? I once thought that I would never get sick of tomatoes: I don't feel like that anymore. This year's bumper crop of tomatoes has compelled me to spend hours processing my daily hauls of fruit so that I'm not limited to never ending Caprese salads---an objectively inoffensive salad that has become increasingly, and perhaps irrationally, daunting to me over the past two months. Too many tomatoes, I guess. A few days I ago I came in from the garden with some beautiful, black globe eggplants along with my usual bucket of tomatoes. Naturally, I turned them into eggplant parmigiana.

    I like my eggplant parmigina simple and straight-forward, where the sweetness and acidity of the fresh tomato sauce melds seamlessly with the distinctive flavor of the eggplant. Thus I keep my recipe simple, preferring to let the ingredients to shine rather than assembling a cacophony of flavors to assault the palate. My ingredients list is basic: tomatoes, onion, olive oil, a little bit of fresh basil, eggplants, a little bit of flour and egg, mozzarella, and authentic Peccorino and Parmigiano cheeses, of course. 

Here's how to make it: 

SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE

4-6 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes

1/2 medium onion, chopped finely 

olive oil

salt and pepper

10 leaves of fresh basil, minced

  1.  Prepare the tomatoes: Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes and carefully cut a large X at the bottom of each fruit. You just want to cut through the thin tomato skin, and leave the flesh as unaffected as possible.
  2. One the water is boiling drop each tomato into the pot, a few at a time. Once the skin begins to look loose immediately transfer the tomato out of the boiling water onto a clean work area. Each tomato should be done after ten or twenty seconds. 
  3. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, remove their skins, core them, and slice them in half, removing the seeds. 
  4. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. 
  5. Set another large pot over medium heat. Add 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, or enough so that the bottom of the pot is covered. Add the onion, cook until wilted and fragrant, but not browned. 
  6. Once the onion is wilted, add the tomatoes. Adjust the temperature on the stove so that the tomatoes reach a gentle simmer. Salt them, and cover the pot. Stir occasionally, and check the heat to make sure that it stays low enough to maintain a simmer.  
  7. The tomatoes will begin to disintegrate. Keep the heat low enough so that the tomatoes fall apart slowly and gradually. After about an hour you will have bright, beautiful sauce. Turn off the heat, add the basil, and salt and pepper the sauce to taste. 
  8. For my eggplant parmigiana, I like a smooth sauce so I quickly run an immersion blender through the pot to disperse any remaining chunks. However, this is not absolutely necessary. Cover the pot, and set the sauce aside. 

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

Note: I don't specify quantities for salt and pepper, because to me, seasoning's a  personal thing. While I won't tell you exactly how much salt to use--or tell you how to live your life in general--I will gently caution you to remember that in the end, you will assemble an eggplant parmigiana that is composed of salted tomato sauce, and three types of salted cheeses. Salt compounds quickly, plan accordingly.

3 Large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise in thin slices. You want them to be about 1/4-1/3 of an inch thick

3 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups flour 

2 cups grape seed oil (I use grape seed oil to fry the eggplant instead of olive oil because it has a higher smoke point, and very little flavor)

1 pound fresh mozzarella, chilled and then cut into thin pieces

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano 

1/2 cup freshly grated Peccorino Romano

Salt and pepper

tomato sauce

EQUIPMENT

1 large baking dish--I used my 3.8 quart Emile Henry lasagna dish

1 large, heavy bottomed pan for frying. I used my All-Clad saute pan 

2 shallow pans for dredging

1 cooling rack and 1 cookie sheet 

1 pair of tongs

 1 ladle

  1. Prepare your dredging and frying stations. This is key to ensuring quick, safe, and easy frying with minimal mess.  First, mix the flour with a liberal amount of salt and pepper and pour it into a shallow dish that is large enough to accommodate your largest pieces of eggplant. Place the egg mixture in a similarly sized pan. Place the pans and the eggplant slices near your stove with the flour nearest to the frying pan, then the egg, and, finally, the eggplant next to the eggs. Next, set a your largest cooling rack on top of a baker's half sheet or large cookie sheet. Then set them on a cool place near the stove. Ideally this should be on the opposite side of your dredging station. 
  2. Set a large, heavy, bottomed pan on the stove over medium high heat and add the grape seed oil. 
  3. Begin to dredge the eggplant. Using your freshly-washed hands, dip each piece in the egg mixture, allowing the excess egg to drip off the eggplant. Then lightly set the eggplant in the flour. Turn it over so that both sides are equally covered in a light dusting of flour. Neatly shake off the excess flour. Using tongs set the eggplant in the hot oil, allowing each side to brown lightly. You may place multiple pieces in the pan at once, but do not let them touch. The eggplant slices should be uniformly browned after 3-5 minutes of frying time. 
  4. Transfer the eggplant to the cooling rack, spacing them evenly. Do not stack them until they are completely cooled. 

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Assembly: set your baking dish, the sauce, all of the cheeses, and fried eggplant slices on a clear work surface. Spoon a small amount of sauce at the bottom of the pan, just enough to lightly cover the entire base. Then place a uniform layer of eggplant on top. Cover the eggplant with more sauce, then arrange single slices of mozzarella across the entire pan. Lightly sprinkle equal portions of Peccorino and Parmigiano across the top. Add another layer of eggplant, followed by the sauce and cheeses. Repeat as necessary, completing the dish with a layer of sauce and cheese. 

7.  Set the baking dish on the oven's middle rack and bake for one hour at 375. Allow the eggplant to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Eggplant Parmigiana pairs well with a crisp green salad, Della Fattoria's ciabatta, and your favorite red wine.  Mangia!

 Eggplant parmigiana is wonderful straight out of the oven, but makes a killer hot sandwich the next day when served on toasted bread with a thin layer of prosciutto. So, so good.

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  • Regina Leoni
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