*Or: “When in doubt, spread the blame as much as possible”
I got another eggplant in the Box Of Wonders last week, and decided it was time to pull the trigger on eggplant Parmesan. Now, at this point, you may be thinking, “Gosh Jackie, well done. Way to step outside your comfort zone. This CSA thing is really making you…” Nope. I was utterly intimidated by the eggplant and recruited my roommates in order to spread the blame around if we ended up with a mushy, unidentifiable mess. If we failed, at least it would be failure by committee. You know, like Congress. Unlike Congress, however, we did actually want to do some research and have someone knowledgable to look to for guidance. So, we dug through the cookbook trove and found ourselves an eggplant parm consultant.
Our chosen guide on this aubergine safari is Marcella Hazan, as recorded in her nifty and comprehensive take on Italian food, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. It has blessedly specific instructions on everything from how to measure out tortellini to choosing an eggplant in the grocery store. Take us to the finish line, Marcella!
If you’ve ever used an eggplant for anything at all, you know that they contain lots of water, and are wont to disintegrate when cooked. If you want eggplant to hang together, you need to extract as much of its liquid as possible before you begin cooking it. There are various suggested methods for doing this, but Marcella advised that we peel the the eggplants, slice them into 3/8 inch (because half an inch just won’t do) planks, salt them, and stand them up in a colander to allow them to sweat for at 1-2 hours.
Since we were in a little bit of a frenzy at this point, we positively coated the eggplant in salt, which may have been a bit excessive.
While we were waiting on the eggplant, we started the sauce…all that happened here was a couple cans of diced tomatoes, a whole mess of garlic, a little olive oil, and some s&p, simmered for 20 minutes, with some fresh basil stirred in right before serving. Quite tasty. Nice moves, Marcella.
After 45 minutes, we rinsed the eggplant, dried it, dredged it in flour, and fried it up. (Many recipes call for bread crumbs, but In Marcella We Trust, and Marcella said to go with flour. So…flour.)
This part took awhile, but the eggplant came out nice and crispy with zero excess bread mush. Score one for the Eggplant Parm Committee.
Next, we buttered a baking dish, layered in the eggplant, sauce, wafer-thin mozzarella, a sprinkle of shredded parmesan, and a little fresh-torn basil. Repeat layering twice and whack it in the oven.
Here’s a picture of the plate. I forgot to take one before we ate.
We also had pasta and homemade garlic bread, but you’ll just have to picture those on the plate as well. It really was pretty. By the way, it is always, ALWAYS worth it to make garlic bread yourself. (One loaf of ciabatta, cut horizontally then into slices, mix together 1 stick of softened salted butter with 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic and 1-2 tablespoons minced parsley, spread the mixture on the slices, put ’em on a pan, and put it in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes, then broil for 1-2 minutes. If you leave it in one minute too long, the garlic bread will become insta-charcoal.)
Here’s what the rest of it looked like in the pan:
It should be noted that while there were several failure scenarios identified by The Committee:
- Mushy, gookey eggplant
- Soggy, overly-thick breading
- Excessive cheesiness
None of those things happened. There were, however, a few rookie mistakes that kept this from being an experience of sheer nightshade nirvana, including:
- Over-salting the eggplant: It was salty. Not inedibly salty, but sufficiently salty that we are discussing salt-mitigation techniques for next time.
- Not pressing the eggplant after rinsing: Pressing the eggplant would likely have removed more of both liquid and salt.
- Salting the tomato sauce: There was no extra salt-flavor required here.
- Not beginning the recipe until 7 pm: This is not a fast recipe. We ate at the stroke of 10 pm.
But, dang it, we ate eggplant parmesan, so I’m putting one in the win column for The Eggplant Parm Committee!