George and I are big fans of most ethnic food. While French tops my list, Italian plays a close second. Last week I got a sudden craving for Eggplant Parmigiana. I have made this dish in the past but am always looking for ways to improve on the outcome. This dish has alot of opportunities for failure. From soggy eggplant to excessive runny sauce to just too much of everything for two people. Over the years I have been playing with variations and I think this week I came up with a winner. Eggplant that was still firm to the tooth, the correct ration of sauce to eggplant and a dish that was eaten by two people over the course of one dinner and one lunch.
It all began at the grocery store with the purchase of a SMALLER eggplant. I live in New Mexico and eggplant is not a native ingredient in the local dishes. That means you need to search out eggplant that is still firm and not so ginormous that it could feed a family of ten. Last week my local store has a nice selection of smaller eggplant that fit the bill. The store also had a special on canned fire roasted tomatoes. So they went into my cart along with the eggplant. My pantry/refrigerator yielded the other necessary ingredients for both the sauce and the eggplant – eggs, bread crumbs ( I prefer Panko,) Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, dried and fresh garlic (and lots of it,) dried oregano, anchovies, white wine, salt and pepper.
I began by slicing the eggplant into six pieces approximately 1 inch thick. These were salted, placed on a rack and left to drain for one hour. I have learned that one hour is the magic number to drain excess liquid while not allowing them to get too dried out.
While the eggplant was draining I made the sauce. I sliced four large garlic cloves and mixed them with dried oregano. I don’t know how much – I stopped adding it when it looked like the right amount, I would guess about 2 tbl. I placed the oregano and garlic in a non reactive saucepan with a splash of olive oil. This went onto a medium low burner just until the garlic and oregano began to get fragrant, about one minute. Then I added the two cans of fire roasted tomatoes, a splash of white wine and two oil packed anchovies. I moved the pan to my simmer burner and let it cook for the next hour. When making tomato sauce I check the tomato mixture frequently to be sure the liquid is not evaporating too quickly. If I find it is a tad dry I throw in another splash of white wine. When the hour had passed I used my stick blender to breakdown some of the tomatoes in the pot. We like our sauce a bit chunky but this is definitely personal preference. Then I tasted the sauce and seasoned with salt and pepper. I use Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
When the eggplant has completed draining it went through a traditional three dish breading – flour, egg and breadcrumbs. I seasoned my breadcrumbs with dried garlic, parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The eggplant slices were dipped in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. They were placed on a silicon lined backing sheet and placed in a 350 degree F. oven for about 45 minutes. I find that pre-baking the eggplant results in a firmer finished product.
I began to assemble the dish shortly after the eggplant came out of the oven. In the past I would coat the entire bottom of the baking dish with sauce, lay in the eggplant, add the mozzarella, add another layer of sauce and then the Parmesan. This time I attempted to make a much drier dish. I placed two tablespoons of sauce in a pool on one spot in the baking dish. A cooked eggplant slice went on top of that. The eggplant was topped with a THIN layer of sauce, a piece of sliced fresh mozzarella, another THIN layer of sauce and finally with freshly grated Parmesan. I repeated this process with the other five pieces of eggplant. The dish went into a 350 degree F oven until the mozzarella was melted and the parmesan was toasty brown.
I knew the moment I began plating that I had met one of my goals. The eggplant slid off the spatula and held its shape. The three distinct eggplants made a nice presentation on the plate. I served them with zucchini noodles I cut with my mandolin and sauteed in a bit of olive oil. I passed the extra sauce on the side.
As we begin the vegetable growing season I will be adding this to my repertoire of meatless meals. Bonus feature – because the eggplant wasn’t soggy it held up to a quick stay in the microwave for lunch the next day!