Eggplant Parmesan with a Garden Vegetable Sauce

I am half Italian and half German. If pressed to choose which side I identify with more, I'd say the Italian. My maiden name ends in an "o," my family tends to be pretty boisterous and loud, and every Sunday growing up was "macaroni day." My mom or dad would start making a sauce early in the morning; waking up, I'd always smell the onion and garlic browning, or the meatballs frying. Sometimes "macaroni day" meant spaghetti and meatballs, ravoli and sauce, or eggplant parmesan. On special occasions, such as Christmas, there would be (and still is) anything from chicken marsala to homemade manicotti, fettucine alfredo, or lasagna. I assume that my dad learned to make many of the above recipes from my grandmother Josephine, although I'm not sure (and this is a reminder for me to ask).

 When I left home and finally lived in an apartment large enough to make a big pot of sauce and some homemade meatballs, I had to call my parents for the recipe. Of course, I was chided for not having paid more attention to them when they made these things on a weekly basis, but they obliged, and my mom gave me the recipe like this: A handful of this, "about that much" of that, a sprinkle of so-and-so, etc.... I used these loose recipes to formulate my own versions, and I think I've gotten pretty close.

As we read through our Week 9 CSA newsletter, the word 'eggplant' practically jumped out at us. I knew that no matter how hot it was going to get, I'd be in the kitchen making parm. I also plan on making lots of other eggplant dishes, some of which I hope to share. I'd love to reveal the meatball recipes and the original sauce recipe, but I feel as though they are family secrets. What I can share with you is my version of eggplant parmesan, with my own vegetable sauce.


The following recipe looks long and tedious, but it's not. There are just three main steps: making the sauce, frying the eggplant, and assembling the eggplant parmesan. It is a bit time-consuming, and I usually make multiple baking dishes-worth of eggplant parm in an evening. They freeze exceptionally well, and are perfect for casual dinners with company when combined with a big salad and some garlic bread, or for a no-fuss quick dinner during the week. All you'd need to do is remove the dish from the freezer at the beginning of the day, let it defrost, and then reheat it in the oven.

Eggplant Parmesan

You'll need (recipes below):

  • Nicole's Garden Vegetable Sauce
  • Fried EggplantPart-skim mozzarella, shredded (I tend to use Sargento. Use what you like, but I DO NOT recommend Polly-O.)


Nicole's Garden Vegetable Sauce
Makes enough for three dishes of eggplant parm, or easily enough to serve 6-8 people over pasta, probably with leftovers. If you only plan on making one dish of eggplant parm, this sauce freezes well for use with later pasta meals. I'd also recommend serving the eggplant parm with extra sauce on the side.

You'll need:
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (yellow, red, or Spanish all work well)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 large carrots, unpeeled, quartered and chopped
  • 2 small summer squash, diced (approximately 1 cup)
  • 2 bay leaves, dried
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (can always add more later)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

optional:
  • a handful of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped

In your largest non-reactive pot, heat a generous amount (enough to spread along the bottom) of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and gently saute until soft and translucent, approximately 7-10 minutes. Add carrots, squash, peppers, and mushrooms, and cook another 3-5 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally. Add crushed tomatoes, basil, bay leaves, and hot pepper flakes and stir. Add the parmesan cheese and stir. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring frequently so as not to burn the bottom and until the sauce has thickened.


Fried Eggplant

You'll need:
  • 2 large purple eggplants
  • 3 eggs, whisked gently with a fork
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan (I feel obligated to note that it is unacceptable to use the Kraft cheese that comes in a green shaker bottle. It does not count, and if my father ever found out you used it in this recipe, he'd be pretty upset.)
  • kosher or sea salt
  • paper towels
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • large fry pan or electric skillet (electric skilled preferred!)

A few hours before frying, and up to a day before, peel and trim the eggplants. Slice into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place in single layers on double-sheeted paper towels. Sprinkle the top of each eggplant round with a bit of salt (this helps draw out the water and makes the dish less runny). Stack the eggplants with the paper towels between them and put a plate on top for a little pressure.

A note before frying: it is really important to use enough oil to coat the fry pan and a bit extra so that the oil is able to get sufficiently hot. If you don't use enough oil, the eggplant will not fry, but instead soak up more oil. 

Heat equal amounts of olive oil and vegetable oil in your fry pan. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and parmesan in a shallow bowl. Dunk eggplant in the egg, then dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture, and place in the fry pan. Cook each side approximately 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. If they take longer, consider turning up the heat or adding more oil. You don't want the eggplant sitting in the oil and just soaking it all up. If you run out of breadcrumbs or egg, repeat instructions! Lay a double-layer of paper towels on a plate to receive the finished eggplant; this will soak up the extra oil. Cover each new layer with 2 more paper towels.


Assemble the Eggplant Parmesan:

Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a medium-sized rectangular baking dish. Place a layer of eggplant over the sauce, gently overlapping the rounds, so that the bottom of the pan doesn't peek through. Ladle another thin layer of sauce over the eggplant, and sprinkle with a thin layer of mozzarella (approx. 1/4-1/2 cup). Repeat these steps 2-3 more times, until your dish is full. Finish with a layer of sauce and cheese.


If you are eating right away:
Place the eggplant parmesan in a 350-degree preheated oven. Bake, uncovered, approx. 30-35 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted and browning.

If you are freezing:
Let parm cool completely. Then wrap in a layer of plastic wrap AND a layer of aluminum foil. Do not forget to REMOVE THE PLASTIC prior to reheating.

(fyi, the above picture was taken prior to freezing)

3 comments:

  1. I made your eggplant parm yesterday, and it's perfect. I'll make it again, but will look into buying stocks in the paper towel industry first. Lotta paper towels. But well worth it. Wonder what it would be like if I baked the eggplant instead of frying it?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, the paper towel usage is quite high for this recipe. I have contemplated using cloth towels and then immediately doing a super-duper wash, but that doesn't make sense...unless grease-stained towels are your thing...

    ReplyDelete
  3. My Nanie never bought a paper towel in her whole life. She would cut, salt and stack the eggplant then place a pan with some water on top. The water weeps (draws) out fine ;-)

    Natalie

    ReplyDelete

 

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