Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accidental Eggplant Parmesan

I didn't wake up last Monday thinking I'd make eggplant Parmesan. It happened much more haphazardly than that--an accidental confluence of ingredients that led me to the conclusion that eggplant Parmesan needed to be on the day's agenda.

I'd bought two glossy purple eggplants at the farmer's market on Saturday and knew I wanted to use them before the week was out. (Mondays, when I don't go to my job, are my best non-weekend cooking opportunities.) I had a quart of roasted tomato sauce in the fridge that either needed to be used or put in the freezer. And I had a hunk of smoked mozzarella left over from a recent pizza. All of a sudden it was clear that eggplant Parmesan was the thing.

I'd thought of making my beloved Eggplant and Summer Vegetable Gratin, which I've only made once this year. But as much as I love eating it, I don't always want to devote most of an afternoon to making it. Plus, I had all that sauce in the fridge, and it didn't seem to make sense to make a different sauce when the one I had would work just fine.

And so I opted for a quicker variation. One thing that made it quicker than a more traditional eggplant Parmesan is the eggplant preparation. I read several recipes that called for breading and frying the eggplants. That seemed like too much work and had too much potential for soggy, greasy eggplant slices. So, I used the technique from the gratin recipe--slicing the eggplants thickly (1/2 inch per slice, or so), brushing them with olive oil and then baking them in the oven for 25 minutes. This method saves time and oil both, and once baked, the eggplant slices are fully prepared to serve as layering material.

Once that was done, most of the work was done. I put down a layer of eggplant in the gratin dish. I spooned sauce over the eggplant. I grated the smoked mozzarella over the sauce. I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on as well. And then I did it again. There were still a few eggplant slices left, but rather than add a third layer, I made a single dish that I put in the freezer for later. I also didn't worry about the oven temperature. I was also baking yet another batch of blueberry crumble bars, and I put the eggplant in the oven at the same time. The only precaution I took was to cover it for the first 30 minutes so the cheese wouldn't get too brown.

And that was it. The smoked mozzarella is key, I think--it adds another layer of flavor to the already layered flavor of the sauce. But that's not to say not to make it if you don't have smoked mozzarella. Or roasted tomato sauce, for that matter. I can say, though, that if you use both things, you won't be disappointed.

Three signs that this dish is a keeper:
  1. After eating it for lunch three days in a row, I was disappointed that there wasn't any left for lunch #4.
  2. Even before the first batch was finished, I was already thinking about the next one.
  3. When batch # 2 was in the oven, exactly one Monday later, I was on the phone with Alex and mentioned what I'd made. He was on his way home but promptly turned around in the bowling alley parking lot so he could be at my house in time for dinner.
To those I would add that I'm eying the one measly serving left from batch #2 and contemplating my cooking plans for the weekend. Let's just say I won't be surprised if there's more eggplant Parmesan in my immediate future.

Eggplant Parmesan: A Variation

2 medium-sized eggplants, about 2 lbs.
1 quart roasted tomato sauce, or other sauce
8 oz. (approx.) smoked mozzarella
grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 375

Slice eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush with olive oil on both sides and place on cookie sheets. Bake for 25 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 350.

Layer eggplant slices in a gratin dish or other large pan. Spoon tomato sauce generously over eggplant. Grate smoked mozzarella to lightly cover the sauce. Sprinkle (or grate) Parmesan cheese. Repeat for second layer.

Cover dish with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes, removing the tin foil after 30 minutes.

(As noted above, I've baked it at several different temperatures with equal success. If you're baking something else and want to stick this dish in the oven at the same time, it's flexible enough to take a slightly different temperature. Just leave the tin foil on for the first half hour so the cheese doesn't get too brown.)

Excellent served with pasta and more roasted tomato sauce.


Donna Baron said...

Hi Sue,

I sure wish accidental eggplant Parmesan would happen in my house! I hope you're well. I just signed up for an RSS feed of your blog and put in my reader's food page along with epicurious and splendid table.

Hope you're well!


ps - Alex's photos are amazing!

Sharon said...

Yum. It is 4:00 in the morning and I want dinner. What a great recipe - love your blog!

kerry dexter said...

baking the eggplant -- what a great idea. thanks.