"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, August 31, 2012

Spicy Grilled Eggplant and Eggplant Parmigiano

The grilled eggplant is a simple but delicious recipe.  Eggplant is often misused, for if it is not cooked properly, and especially if you do not take advantage of the great tastes imparted by the skin, it comes out watery, gooey, and tasteless.  The trick in many eggplant recipes is the browning of the skin.  Not in the eggplant parmesan that my aunt used to make where you trim the skin because it has too much taste for the subtleties of this dish.

Eggplant parmigiano is a straightforward recipe, not a lot of cooking tricks, but it takes a lot of time.  Well worth it, however. It is one of the dishes I best remember as a kid.  My Aunt Leona made it for Easter and Christmas, and it was superb. Flavorful, thick, rich sauce, bubbling cheese, lovely.  My mother used to take a shortcut and not fry the eggplant, but my sister and I always complained.  “How come you don’t make it like Aunty Ona?”, we said.  “

“Your aunt doesn’t have anything to do all day but cook.  I am a busy woman”, replied my mother, and that was that.  Take my advice and don’t take my mother’s short cut. After all, you’re not going to make this dish every week.

Aunty Angie made the lasagna, and although I am not giving a detailed recipe here, it is made very much like the eggplant.  Instead of the eggplant slices in the baking dish, you layer the broad lasagna noodles with mozzarella, parmesan, and tomato sauce. 

Spicy Grilled Eggplant (3 servings)

* 2 lbs. eggplant cut into 2' pieces

The small variety shown in my Baba Ghanouj recipe are best because the proportion of skin to flesh is high.  The skin gives much of the flavor, and when grilled and/or baked at high heat imparts the same distinctive smoky taste that eggplant dishes need.  You can find them at the Dupont Circle Sunday market and perhaps at Whole Foods

* 2 Tbsp. olive oil

* 3 Tbsp. soy sauce

* 2 Tsp. sesame oil

* 1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

* 3-4 shakes hot pepper flakes

* 3 lg. cloves garlic, sliced

* 5-6 grindings fresh black pepper

- Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mix well, and let sit for an hour at least

- On a large cookie sheet arrange the eggplant so that as many as possible are separated and exposed to the oven heat

- Preheat the oven to 450F, when ready put in the eggplant and cook for about 20 minutes.  The pieces should have begun to brown.

- Turn the pieces, and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or so

- Turn the oven to BROIL and grill the eggplant for another 10 minutes or so until the browning is complete.  The eggplant by now should all be browned/slightly blackened and ready to serve.  Be sure not to cook them too much, for you dont want too much evaporation of the juices in the flesh.

- Serve hot or cold.  I like to serve cold as a first course with a garnish of fresh, green coriander leaves or parsley.  Hot is good too.

Eggplant Parmigiano (4 servings)

* 2 medium eggplants, peeled, sliced very thin.  You don’t want the eggplants to be too big, because if they are they will be hard to slice.  A medium eggplant produces slices which fit nicely on the bottom of the skillet for frying

* 4 eggs, beaten

* 1/2 – 3/4 lb. sliced mozzarella cheese (It is important to get good mozzarella; but do not buy the fresh, very soft buffalo cheese.  It is delicious served with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and olive oil….but not for this dish)

* 1 cup grated Italian parmesan cheese (best to grate it yourself)

* 2-4 Tbsp. olive oil (for frying)

FOR THE SAUCE

* 1 lg. can Marzano Italian plum tomatoes

* 1/2 can tomato paste (low sodium)

* 1 cup red wine

* 5 lg. cloves garlic, chopped

* 4 Tbsp. olive oil

* 5-6 sprigs fresh basil leaves (should be about 15 large leaves) lightly chopped or 1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves

* 2 tsp. dried basil leaves (if you are using fresh basil)

* 1 lg. pork chop (optional).  The pork chop gives additional flavor to the sauce.  I vary my red sauce recipes, sometimes using pork (if I am using sauce for pasta, then I prepare with two pork chops, otherwise one).

* Salt and pepper to taste

FRYING THE EGGPLANT

- Place the eggplant slices on a large dish and salt lightly, let sit for one hour, then pat dry

- Heat the oil to medium-high in a cast-iron skillet

- Dip each slice of eggplant in egg, coat well, and place in the skillet. Lightly salt.   Fry for about 2-3 minutes until lightly brown; then turn and repeat the process.  To save time if you have two skillets, use both, but be careful not to burn the slices.

- Finish and set aside until the sauce is done.

THE SAUCE

- Sautee the garlic in the olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Do not brown.

- Add the basil and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes

- Add the pork chop (if used) and cook lightly on both sides

- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine

- Cook over low heat (simmer)  for about 4 hours or until the sauce is moderately thick, stirring every half-hour or so. If you are using pork chop, then break apart and off the bone after about 2 hours of cooking, leave in the sauce.

* Add salt to taste

THE ASSEMBLY

- Place the slices of eggplant on the bottom of a medium Pyrex dish so that the bottom is entirely covered. 

- Place 4-5 slices of mozzarella on top of the eggplant, lightly salt

- Cover layer with sauce, making sure it is evenly spread

- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese

- Repeat the process making three layers. 

- On the top layer, put one more layer of mozzarella and liberally sprinkle parmesan cheese.

- Preheat oven to 375F

- Cook for about 30 minutes or enough for all to heat up and the cheese to melt.  You can tell if it is done when you see the sauce bubbling

- Serve

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