Easy on the Sauce

December 12, 2008 at 5:16 am (From the Cabin Kitchen)

Considering the title to this post, and the titles of my previous two, you all must think I am some kind of lush. Only one actually had to do with alcohol; the others, are unfortunate victims of my feeble attempts to be witty.

What I wanted to talk about today, though, is the sauce that ever-s0-lightly bathes the eggplant–not the kind you all think I should probably lay off of– in this lovely Eggplant Parmesan I made this week.

Now, I know that Eggplant is not in season. Nor are tomatoes. Or basil. I regret to report that none of the ingredients are actually in season, and for this, I apologize in advance. But, like many of us, I needed something to cheer me up, and these elegant, dark purple specimens called to me in the produce aisle the other day. I tried to resist, hearing the socially-conscious angel shopper on my shoulder, telling me to wait until next August when they are fresh!  But their skin was so soft and velvety smooth, cold and heavy in my hands and oddly soothing.  And so, I momentarily ‘forgot’ the words of Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan and all the other Locavores, and bought one anyway, with every intention of slicing it up for Eggplant Parmesan.

I have been making this recipe for years, and I tell you, people, it is definitely worth the effort. The best part about this particular version is you don’t have to fry the eggplant in oil; you bake it instead. And it is crispy and nice, without being quite so heavy.

There are a few key things to the success of this recipe. One, use fresh breadcrumbs. No shortcuts here, please. Two, use the best quality canned tomatoes you can get; if you are lucky enough to have canned ones lying around from your summer bounty, bust them out now. Three, easy on the sauce! Unlike the recipe for Hippie Enchiladas, where the rolled tortillas must be fully swimming in sauce, these crispy rounds of purple deliciousness have to stay in the shallow end. Otherwise, the eggplant will become soupy and unidentifiable.

The recipe also halves nicely, if you don’t have a crowd. In that case, use about a 9×9 pan, or a medium sized oval casserole dish.

Eggplant Parmesan, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, Jan/Feb 2004

2  pounds globe eggplant (about 2 medium), sliced crosswise into 1/4” rounds
1  T. Kosher salt
8  slices high quality white bread, torn into pieces
1  cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 oz.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4   cup all-purpose flour
6  large eggs
6  T. canola oil

Tomato Sauce:
3  14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, or about 1 quart plus a half-pint of home-canned. If you are using purchased, go for the Muir Glen Organic (but not the No Salt version)
2  T. extra-virgin olive oil
4  large garlic cloves pressed or finely minced
1/4  t. red pepper flakes
1/2  cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8  ounces whole milk or part-skim mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
1/2  cup grated Parmesan
10  fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish

1. For the Eggplant: Cover bottom of a large colander with Eggplant slices, lightly sprinkle Kosher salt over it, and layer in this fashion with the remaining slices. Place colander over a large bowl, then weight with a one-gallon Ziploc bag filled with later. Let drain until eggplant releases at least one tablespoon of liquid, about 30-45 min. Wipe off excess salt, then arrange slices on a triple layer of paper towels, and cover with another triple layer of paper towels.
2. While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place rimmed baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse bread in food processor to fine even, crumbs, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to a pie plate and stir in 1 cup parmesan, 1/4 t. salt, and 1/2 t. pepper, set aside. Wipe out bowl of food processor—do not wash—and set aside.
3. Combine flour and 1 t. pepper in another pie plate. Beat eggs in a third pie plate. Coat each eggplant slice in flour, then dip in egg, and finish with a coating of the crumbs. Place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
4. Remove preheated baking sheets from oven; add 3 T. oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place half of the bread eggplant on each sheet in a single layer; bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 min., switching and rotating sheets after 10 min, and flipping slices after 20 min. Remove slices to wire baking racks—so they don’t get soggy—and leave oven on.
5. For the sauce: While eggplant bakes, process 2/3 of the canned or jarred tomatoes in food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds. Heat olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large, heave-bottomed saucepan over med-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes; stir in processed and then remaining 1/3 of canned tomatoes. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 15 min. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. To assemble: Spread 1-cup tomato sauce in bottom of a 13×9 glass or ceramic baking dish. Layer in half the eggplant, overlapping slices to fit; distribute 1 cup sauce over eggplant; sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Layer in the remaining eggplant and dot with 1-cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp; sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan and remaining mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and cheese is browned, about 13-15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter basil over top and serve, with remaining sauce passed separately.


1 Comment

  1. alexis said,

    thx, will try this one! on another note, the pomagrante pear guac i made the other day after talking to you, turned out ok, nothing great to write home about! can’t wait to see you guys for NY’s!

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