Sometimes, I wish I were British. It isn’t the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude I covet, nor the dental hygiene (or lack thereof), but rather, the language. I want to sound posh when I speak. I want to write words with extra Us (like ‘flavour’ and ‘colour’) and ending in ‘re’ (‘centre,’ ‘theatre’). I want to use slang like ‘snog’, ‘naff’, ‘total git’and not have my spellcheck object with a cheeky red underline.
I can’t think of a less appealing name for a type of produce than ‘eggplant.’ And ‘aubergine’ seems a much more fitting name for the vegetable-fruit that most commonly comes in a shade of deep purple. Though the name finally clicked when I received my first pristine ivory eggplant in the box a few years ago, the vast majority of the ones we see look nothing at all like the things that come out of chickens.
As for people who claim to dislike eggplant (as with most produce people claim to dislike) my theory is that they once had a bad experience with said produce and decided that it is all bad. (I kinda have this with the under-ripe kiwi and melon so often found in diner fruit salads – bleh.) Eggplant can be bitter tasting, with a cottony texture akin to ‘teddy bear stuffing,’ as a friend of mine puts it, when procured out of season, shipped from far away places, and not properly prepared.
But when fresh, and cooked long and slow, eggplant takes on a soft, creamy texture verging on erotic. Any bitterness will be taken care of by a sauce made with meltingly tender onions and sweet, flavorful tomatoes. Some gooey, mild mozzarella and musky parmesan make this dish irresistible.
If you think of eggplant parmesan as heartburn-inducingly heavy due to the standard practice of battering and deep-frying the eggplant slices, try this version. The eggplant gets brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until golden and soft. A second baking with layers of sauce and cheese ensures that teddy-bear fluff is the last thing the finished dish will resemble.
For a smoother sauce, you can take the extra step of peeling and seeding the tomatoes, but I am much too lazy for this, and am not bothered by a bit of seed and skin. As long as the tomatoes are diced, the pieces of skin are so small as to be unnoticeable.
A simple dish like this is all about the ingredients, so use shiny fresh eggplants, the ripest, most dense, fleshy tomatoes you can find, a good olive oil, and fresh parmesan. Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread for mopping up the juices.
Don’t be tempted by tiny aubergines, as I was, though; the large globes are what you really want for their meaty texture and high flesh-to-skin-and-seed ratio.
Ecstatic for Eggplant:
One year ago:
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
8 entree-sized servings
3 1/2 – 4 pounds large globe eggplant (3 – 4 eggplants), sliced into 1/3″ rounds
about 1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced (3 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds (8 – 10) ripe tomatoes, preferably dry-harvested, San Marzanos or Romas, diced (4 cups)
a large handful basil leaves (1/4 cup, lightly packed), chopped
1 pound mozzarella, sliced thinly
2 ounces freshly grated parmesan (1 cup, gently packed)
Preheat the oven to 425º.
Sprinkle the eggplant slices with about 1 tablespoon of salt and set aside to sweat for 30 minutes. Blot dry.
Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil and place on sheet pans (you will need 3 or 4). Roast in batches in the oven until both sides are golden and the slices are soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven or skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, slightly golden, and very tender, 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened to a thick, jammy texture, 15 – 20 minutes. (This may take longer if your tomatoes are more watery.) Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste for salt.
Oil a 9 x 13 x 2″ lasagna pan or glass baking dish. Layer the ingredients like so:
-Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
-Make an overlapping layer with 1/2 of the eggplant
-Spread with another 1/3 of the sauce
-Top with 1/2 of the mozzarella
-Sprinkle over all of the parmesan
-Top with the remaining eggplant
-Spread with the remaining sauce
(reserve the rest of the mozzarella)
Bake the eggplant parmesan at 350º until bubbling and heated through, 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and preheat the broiler. Lay the remaining mozzarella slices over the top and place under the broiler for 2 – 3 minutes to melt and brown the cheese (watch closely so it doesn’t burn.) Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
The eggplant parmesan keeps well in the fridge for up to several days. Reheat before serving.