Monday, September 8, 2008

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

I have a wonderful husband who can grow anything. He has a full vegetable and herb garden, and I love to harvest the fruits of his labor. Alas, I do not have a green thumb, and several plants have sucumbed under my neglect or complete lack of care.

This past summer, we had tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, okra, peppers, and eggplant. At one point, everything else was stunted due to the heat, but the eggplant was still going strong. So I had gone out to the garden, picked three of these cute little eggplants, and thinking about how I was going to use them.

I know you can use eggplant to make a Middle Eastern dip called baba ghanoush, but I didn't have a reliable recipe for it. I do know how to make eggplant parmesan though. I also had pecorino romano cheese and some stale bread in the freezer I could use to make bread crumbs, so that pretty much sealed the deal. Eggplant parmesan for dinner!

This dish is a little complicated for a weeknight, but once the eggplant is picked, you really have to use it that day or the next. So while the little ones were napping, I grated my cheese, got all my ingredients together, and processed the stale bread.

I try to save leftover heels from bread, any kind of bread, let sit out until stale, and stash them in freezer. When I need bread crumbs, (and if I remember about the bread in the freezer), I pull out my mini food processor and blitz the bread up. I didn't have enough for this recipe, but I combined them with some store bought crumbs and it was just enough.

I have to put in a plug for 2 of my kitchen tools. I got my mini food processor years ago, and I love it. You have to get one of these things. It's perfect for small amounts, like herbs, stale bread, nuts, etc. The other tool is my microplane grater. I use it for garlic, ginger, citrus zest, and hard cheeses. It also came with a protective guard to cover the grating area when not in use-- a bonus with 4 kids around here. I don't want my kids to figure out how sharp it really is, because it can take off your fingertip if you're not careful.

Okay, now to prepare the eggplant. All you have to do is cut off the top and bottom (like you would an onion), and peel it with a vegetable peeler until all the purple skin is gone. Then slice into about 1/4 inch rounds. You don't have to be precise, it'll taste just fine once you fry it up.

I have made homemade marinara in the past, but that stopped about 2 kids ago. So just use your favorite store bought marinara, and no one will know the wiser. My personal favorite is Classico or Bertolli. When I have time, I'll go ahead and do the layering thing, but today I just wanted to make it simple. So here you go, easy eggplant parmesan.

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

2 medium or 3 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (you can use regular parmesan, parm. reggiano is available everywhere, but the cheapest place is SAM'S Club)
2 cups (or more if necessary) fine dry Italian style bread crumbs
1 cup of all purpose flour

2 cups shredded mozarella cheese (Italian cheese blend is fine
Black pepper to taste
1 jar of prepared marinara sauce
Olive oil for frying

In a deep non-stick skillet, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil. A cast iron skillet would work well here too. Just be sure to use a skillet with high sides, or you'll make a mess with hot oil (not good). In a shallow dish, beat your eggs with the parmigiano reggiano cheese and pepper to taste, and set aside. Put your bread crumbs and flour in 2 more shallow dishes. You're setting up a breading station here. When I do this, I put them on my counter, going left to right, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and then my cooktop is the last thing to the right of the breadcrumbs. This way, I minimize the mess and my pan is right there, ready to fry the eggplant up.

Take your eggplant and dip sparingly into the flour, tap off any excess. Do the same thing with the egg mixture and lastly, with the breadcrumbs. At this point, your oil should be nice and hot, but not smoking. If you let a drop of the eggs fall into the oil, you should hear it sizzle.

Place your eggplant rounds into the pan and let them fry for 2-3 minutes per side. If they are getting dark too quickly, your oil is too hot. If they are very pale and are absorbing a lot of oil, then you need to turn your heat up a little. This is what the eggplant should look like.

Be sure not to crowd the pan, you'll probably be able to fry 4-5 rounds at a time. When both sides are golden brown, take them out and let them drain on a cookie sheet lined with a couple of layers of paper towels. Then place the sheet in a 250 degree oven to keep warm while you finish frying the rest of the eggplant. After every couple of batches, you'll need to add more olive oil to your pan-- and give it a few minutes to get hot again before adding the eggplant.

On a serving platter, arrange the eggplant, spoon over some of the marinara (I just nucked some in the micorwave), and sprinkle with the mozarella cheese. I'm sorry I didn't have any basil at the time to garnish the plate.

The kids all tolerated it for one night, and told me they'd rather have something else the next night. David had his share when he got home from work, so I polished off the leftovers the following day for lunch, which I didn't mind one bit ;-)

Be brave and go fry up some eggplant! God bless your table tonight!

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