Friday, April 24, 2009

Eggplant Parmesan

There were a couple of plump eggplants that were staring at me in the produce section. They were perfectly unblemished with a shiny purple hue and a hefty weight. My mouth watered as I put them into a plastic bag and started thinking about their future.

Adapted from Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking".

As you can see, the ingredients for this dish are pretty basic. The first thing you need to do is remove the green top from the eggplant and peel it. Then cut the pieces lengthwise about 3/8"

The next step is to purge the harsh, bitter flavor from the eggplant. This is done by sprinkling each side of the eggplant with salt and stand upright for 30 minutes. A dark color liquid will gather underneath. When the time expires, pat each side with paper towels.

While the eggplant slices are standing, you can start preparing the sauce. This is a pretty basic tomato sauce, I used plum tomatoes this time so I could choose the coarseness, but typically I stick with the crushed tomatoes. In a skillet over medium high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil followed by tomatoes, some ground black pepper and salt. Cook the tomatoes down until they are reduced by half.

In a large frying pan, pour enough oil into it to come 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and turn the heat up to high. Test the heat by dipping the end of one of the slices into the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready for frying. Dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. Do only a few slices at a time at the moment you are ready to fry them or they will become soggy and oily. Slip as many slices of eggplant into the pan as will fit loosely without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown color on one side, then turn them and do the other side. Do not turn them more than once. When both sides are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the eggplant is done.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the mozzarella into the thinnest possible slices. Wash the basil, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.

Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter. Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish in a single layer, spread some of the cooked tomato over them, cover with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkle liberally and grated Parmesan, distribute a few pieces of basil over it, and top with another layer of fried eggplant. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven.

Occasionally Eggplant Parmesan throws off more liquid as it bakes than you want in the pan. Check after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes by pressing down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon, and draw off any excess liquid you may find. Cook for another 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.

Buon Appetito