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Tuesday
Jul302013

Eggplant Parmesan

This dish is a labor of love.  Depending on how much I make, I usually do it over at least three days.  It has three components:  Fried Eggplant, Tomato Sauce, and a Cheese Layer.  I would strongly advise you to make the eggplant and the sauce separately.  Then freeze them until you are ready to assemble and bake the dish.  

Fried Eggplant

The eggplant makes a huge mess in the kitchen, hence the labor of love categorization.  Choose the slightly longer, narrower eggplant (not the little japanese ones), because they have less seeds, and they are easier to slice uniformly.  This makes enough for two large pans approximately 9" x 13" x 3" and it took me three hours, including clean up.

6 large eggplant
1-2 dozen eggs (have 2 on hand, just in case)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 quart vegetable oil (I like corn oil for this recipe)
2-4 Tbs Salt
1-2 tsp finely ground black or white pepper
1 roll very absorbent paper towels
Waxed paper and 3 gallon size zip lock freezer bags 

  • In a shallow bowl or pie plate, crack about 4 eggs, then add about 1/4 cup of water, 1/2 tsp of the salt, and a pinch of the pepper, and whisk thoroughly.
  • In a medium bowl, add the flour, about 2 tsp of the salt, and a tsp of the pepper, and mix thoroughly.
  • In a large sheet pan or tray, layer paper towels, and have more layers ready to stack the eggplant as they come out of the frying pan.
  • Cut the stem end, peel the eggplant, and slice each eggplant into 1/8" slices, and place in a large bowl.
  • Add enough corn oil to the largest frying pan you have to cover the bottom of the pan with about 1/4" of oil.  Heat the pan to medium high heat.
  • Test the oil by sprinkling in a little flour to see if it sizzles.  When it does, start the egg wash assembly line.
  • Place a few of the eggplant slices in the flour mixture and toss to coat, then tap each piece against the bowl to get rid of the excess flour and place in the egg wash.
  • Turn the slices to coat with egg wash, lift each piece and allow the excess egg to drip off, then place in the frying pan to brown on both sides.
  • The pieces should be more than golden brown, but not dark brown.  When they are, allow each piece to drip off some of the excess oil and then drain on paper towels. 
  • Taste the eggplant as it comes out of the pan (we used to sprinkle on grated cheese and snack on it the entire afternoon!).  If it needs salt, sprinkly a little on while the slices are still hot.  Just remember, you will be also adding tomato sauce and cheese, which also have salt.
  • Continue this process, adding more flour, salt and pepper, or cracking eggs and whisking in water, salt and pepper, adding more oil to the pan, and occasionally wiping out the burned bits if your pan starts to smoke.
  • If you want to get more than one pan going, you can try it, but I usually don't do this unless I have another person willing to do this with me.  To be honest, if you are going to make this much of a mess, get another person to help you and double up.  It's a lot more fun, takes the same amount of time and makes the same amount of mess.
  • Once you have finished frying the eggplant and they are somewhat cool, stack them on pieces of waxed paper, overlaping eggplant slices, about one eggplant slice wide, about 8-10" long, and about 2-3 inches high.  (Remember, you are going to want to get at least two of these packets into the zip lock bags.)
  • Wrap the packets and place them into a zip lock bag, or wrap in foil, and freeze them.  They will keep a good six months if you can wait that long. 

Marinara Tomato Sauce

This sauce, at least the way I was taught to make it, takes a good 6 hours to simmer if you want that "slow simmered" taste.  There is simply no shortcut.   You can use a meat sauce, but I prefer this dish purely vegetarian.  This recipe makes between 5 and 6 quarts.  If you don't want to make your own Marinara sauce, I recommend Victoria Marinara Sauce, which you can buy in most grocery stores that have an Italian population to serve.  It's great right out of the jar, but a quick doctoring up would make it that much better.  Just saute a little garlic, onion, red pepper flakes and a bit of tomato paste in extra virgin olive oil, throw in the sauce, add a bit of water, and simmer for about 30 minutes.  

4 large sweet onions, diced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 28 oz cans crushed tomatos (I like Cento.  Their regular crushed are better than most San Marzano)
2 cans tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, this is not enough to make it hot, just some additional depth)
About a half loaf of chiabatta bread for the tasting process, is purely optional  

  • In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and saute for one minute.
  • Immediately add the onions, and stir until the garlic is spread throughout the onions as this will prevent burning.
  • Saute the onions until they just start to turn golden.  Not fully carmelized as it will make the suce too sweet and you will loose a bit of their bulk.
  • While the onions are cooking, add the tomato paste to a large bowl, and then whisk in another two cans of water.
  • Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste and the vinegar to the pan and mix thoroughly.
  • The addition of water at this point is strictly experience and instinct.  I usually add about 1 28 oz can of water to the pan.  You are trying to strike a balance between cooking for 4-6 hours, and having the sauce be just the right consistency.  
  • Slow simmering means a very gentle bubble. Any more, and you will burn the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  If that happens, don't panic, just lower the heat and stir it without scraping up the bottom.  You don't want to stir that burned crust into your sauce.  If you have another pan, transfer the sauce to a clean pan and continue to simmer.
  • The only way to tell when this is done is to taste it at two hour intervals of slow simmering. (That's what the bread is for.)  You will see a distinct difference between the 2, 4 and 6 hour tasting.  If you have never had really good slow simmered sauce, go for the 6 hours at least once in your life.
  • Allow the sauce to cool, and then freeze.   For a 9x13x3 inch pan, you need about a quart and a half of sauce.

The Cheese Layer

My family made their eggplant, their lasagna, their manicotti, and their stuffed shells with all the same filling.  Frankly it was not my favorite.  It was fresh ricotta cheese, raw eggs, shredded mozzerella cheese, grated parmesan cheese salt, pepper, and dried parsley.  They just threw the ingredients into a bowl and mixed them up, then layered spoonfuls with more mozzerella.  Sound good?  Then go for it.  I don't like cooked ricotta, and I choked on stringy mozzerella in a restaurant.  I use a soft, unaged Asiago I found at Bishops, and grated Reggiana Parmesan.  Italian Fontina would be a good substitute for the Asiago, or even a combination of the three.  Just grate them by hand.  The key to this dish is ratio.  I am judicious with the amount of both sauce and cheese I use.  About 8 oz of each cheese is more than enough.

Make the Dish

I typically thaw my ingredients in the refridgerator for a day, and then compose the dish.  It will even keep composed in the refridgerator for another day before baking.  Just make sure the dish is somewhat room temperature when it goes into the oven or you will be there waiting for hours to eat.  This takes only about 30 minutes to put together, including grating the cheese.

  • Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  • Layer the eggplant slices, overlapping or cutting them to get a single layer, rather than individual stacks of slices.  Press them down to really pack them in.
  • Spread another thin layer of tomato sauce over the eggplant slices, then sprinkle your mixture of cheese.
  • Continue layering until the pan is full.  I am somewhat light handed on the sauce and cheese.  You can always serve it with additional sauce and cheese for sprinkling, but I'm not fond of a soupy, saucy mess.
  • If your dish is room temperature when you put it in the oven, it should bake at 350 degrees, loosely covered with foil, for about 45 minutes.
  • When the sauce and the cheese are very bubbly, take the foil off, and bake for another 15 minutes, until the top starts to brown.
  • Let the eggplant cool for about 15 minutes before you attempt to slice and serve.

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