Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eggplant Parmigiana

If it were up to me, I would eat cheese for every meal.  Seriously, my husband says that it explains why I'm so cheesy (insert rim shot sound here).  When the latest issue of Food Network Magazine showed up in my mail box with the big headline announcing it's "the cheese issue", I immediately curled up on the couch and read it cover to cover.  Unfortunately due to the mixing of meat and dairy, about 60% of the recipes are not able to be made in my home (others can be amended, but for many it would totally change the dish).  When I came across the recipe for eggplant parm, I knew I wanted to try it out.  Then my husband saw it over my shoulder and immediately asked if we could make it.

The one thing about this dish is, it takes a long time to make.  The printed recipe says it takes 2h 45min, but it took me just a little longer (about 3 hours).  I did make one switch in the order of things.  As printed, it said to make the sauce, then prep the eggplant (which then sits for an hour).  I did the eggplant first, then made the sauce, which made a lot more sense.  I even had a little down time after the sauce was done to eat a salad (I had started cooking a little later than I meant to, so we needed the salad to tide us over until the main course was ready!).  I think I can shave a little time off the prep time the next time I make this, everything is always a little clunky the first time you make it!

This recipe was fun to make, especially because it was easy for 2 people to do together.  After the eggplant was ready to be fried, my husband took care of that while I grated the cheese and got everything to put the whole thing together.

A few things I'd do differently next time - the eggplant we got was most bulbous on the bottom so the slices ended up varying in size, next time I'd get one that was a little more symmetrical so the slices come out more uniform.  Also, the package of mozzarella slices I bought was only 8oz which I didn't realize at the time, so it wasn't quite as cheesy (and I bought regular mozzarella, not fresh, so I'd buy fresh next time and slice it myself).  On the third layer of eggplant I didn't end up using the mozzarella so that I could use the final slices on top.

It definitely lived up to any expectations we had.  And it says it serves 6, which is just about right (it would have been 6 full servings had my husband not eaten 2 slices the first night, so technically it served 5).

Eggplant Parmigiana (recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli)

for the sauce:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated
kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 28oz can plus one 15oz can whole San Marzano plum tomatoes
for the eggplant:
1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/4lbs) sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
kosher salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tbsp milk
2 cups Italian-style breadcrumbs
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable oil for frying
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 oz)
2 cups grated provolone cheese (about 8oz)
handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

 - Prepare the eggplant: Put the eggplant rounds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt on both sides and let sit, about 1 hour.
- Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and season with salt and the red pepper flakes; cook until the onions are soft and translucent (7 to 8 minutes).  Add the sugar and tomatoes and break up some of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomatoes are fairly borken down (10 to 15 minutes).  Taste for seasoning.  Let cool.
- Rinse the eggplant with cold water and dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel.
- Put the flour in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and season with salt and pepper.  In a third bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, oregegano, and thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Dredge each eggplant slice in the flour and shake off any excess.  Dip in the egg mixture and finally in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides.  Lay the eggplant slices on baking sheets in a single layer.
- Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke lightly (between 380 and 400 degrees).  Using tongs, add a single layer of eggplant to the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and season lightly with salt.  Repeat until all of the eggplant is fried.
- Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350.  Spoon about one-quarter of the tomato sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.  Top with a layer of the fried eggplant, overlapping the slices slightly.  Top with one-quarter of the mozzarella, then sprinkle with about one-third each of the parmesan, provolone, and basil.  Repeat the layering 2 more times (sauce, eggplant, cheese, basil), then finish with the remaining sauce and mozzarella.  Press the layers firmly into the dish.  Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly (30 to 40 min).  For an extra-brown top, put the dish under the broiler for a minute or two just before serving.        

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