Friday, September 24, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

The last couple weeks have been crazy-busy with paid work, which trumps the fun of blogging every time. I hope you’ll excuse my absence last week. There just weren’t enough hours to get everything done. But I’m back this week, hopefully strong, with a classic. Let’s begin … cominciamo.

The end is near yet again. Summer, you say? Nope … that was on Tuesday. September? It’s true … my favorite month of the year, with its beautiful blue skies and warm sun, is quickly coming to a close. But that’s not what I’m talking about either. Of particular interest to Mangia, Figlie’s creator is that eggplant season, which begins in July here in the Mid-Atlantic states, is almost over for yet another year. So many recipes, so little time…

Just take a look at this thing of beauty that my mom’s friend dropped off at her house the other day:

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It’s a Sicilian eggplant, described on Wikia.com as: “characterized by a tender flavor and a sweet taste.” I’ve never in my life seen one of these, or if I have, I didn’t notice. And I can’t imagine I didn’t notice. Mom says she isn’t sure what she’s doing with it yet, but if she doesn’t do something soon, I’ll have to go steal it from her. Don’t want to see that lovely specimen go to waste.

This thing of beauty arrived from our produce co-op last week:

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It’s a Japanese eggplant, if you aren’t familiar. Thin-skinned, its flavor is described as “delicate” and “sweet.”

Throw in a couple American eggplants and an Italian eggplant (already peeled)…

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….and we’ve been feasting for a couple of weeks now. On what, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1. Joe Ambrosino, of Queens, New York, aptly “channels” his grandmother when he blogs at Your Italian Grandma. About a month ago, he posted a recipe for caponata, which is a cooked eggplant salad that can be served hot or cold, as an appetizer, side dish, or over a nice plate of pasta. As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I had to mention it here!

The ingredients, though numerous, are fairly basic in an Italian pantry: eggplant, garlic, onion, celery, olives, capers, raisins, tomato paste/sauce, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and granulated sugar or honey. But what really caught my eye was his secret ingredient: cocoa! Joe says the cocoa will “darken the color and deepen the taste of the dish.” Having followed his blog for quite some time now, I trust his dishes. Click here to read Joe’s full caponata post and find his recipe.

2. On Wednesday night I sautéed an eggplant and some veggies in a pan and served it as a side dish at dinner. I took one Japanese eggplant, one zucchini, and one red onion. I peeled and chopped each, put them in a pan with butter and olive oil, salt and pepper, and slowly cooked them over low heat on top of the stove. Stirring occasionally, I allowed them to sauté for about an hour. This was the result:

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I sprinkled a little grated Romano cheese over the top and called it done. My husband gave the dish a thumbs-up (“You can make this again, hunny.”), commenting that he liked the “greasiness” with the veggies. I coupled it with my grilled flank steak, which was a flavorful combination, but I couldn’t help thinking how nicely this would go over a plate of pasta as well.

3. Of course, my favorite thing to do with eggplant is to make parmesan. We vacationed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a group of friends and their families several summers ago, and when it was my night to cook, I chose this dish. Not only does it easily feed a crowd (we numbered 17 that trip, if I’m counting correctly), but it’s a Montesano favorite … meaning dinner guests always seem to enjoy it when we make it for them.

The recipe is simple. First, make a pot of Mom’s tomato sauce:

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Peel and thinly slice an eggplant or two (or three, in this case):

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In a bowl, mix together 4 eggs and 1/4 cup of flour, to resemble a pancake batter. Dip each slice of eggplant into the batter and fry in oil, turning once, until fork-tender and lightly browned on each side. Move fried eggplant to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil:

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Once the sauce and eggplant are prepared, grab some shredded mozzarella cheese out of the “icebox” and layer the ingredients in this order, from bottom to top:

Sauce (to cover the bottom of the glass dish)
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Sauce

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 325 degrees, and this is what you’ll get:

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Mom’s Eggplant Parmesan
(Click here to print recipe)

4. There is one more recipe I must mention — one I make fairly often — a bit of a different take on eggplant parmesan. It by no means takes the place of Mom’s recipe, and it really isn’t as efficient to make for a crowd, but Mario Batali offers an amazing parm recipe, focusing more on the eggplant itself (cutting it lengthwise) and using fresh mozzarella. It’s a light and refreshing dish, perfect for a hot July night, and it’s great if serving just a few people. Click here to view and print Mario’s recipe.

I realize now I should’ve posted these recipes earlier in eggplant season … it’s just the way it worked out, I suppose. But I’m taking no excuses. I’ve offered four tasty eggplant recipes and you have at least one week left till the eggplants leave the building. Go get yourself one, give one of these recipes a try, and let me know how it goes!

Sauteed Eggplant, Zucchini, and Onions on Foodista

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My mouth is watering. Must cook eggplant.

Maria M. Boyer said...

Two things I forgot to mention: 1) The fried eggplant for the parmesan is a treat of its own. Just add a little salt and devour. Also, 2) my brother-in-law deep-fries his eggplant when he makes parm. Uh... yum!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

We love eggplant Maria! I always salt mine when I cut it up and let it sit in a colander to drain all he bitter juices first. Do you do that? Then I rinse and pat dry and cook.

This summer to save calories I've been grilling eggplant. After the above step I marinate it in white balsamic vinegar and a little EVOO and some herbs from the garden and then fire up the grill and do both sides. I cut it a little thicker when I grill it. So good!

Thanks for Joe's link ...I will look at his caponata recipe as it sounds different and good!

Beth @ Dirty Laundry said...

I've only made eggplant parm once and it was a Weight Watcher's recipe---I baked the dredged eggplant slices instead of frying them (then did the layering etc.) and the result was still delicious. The kids were tiny and thought they were eating pizza! I just haven't thought to make it in so long! Thanks, Maria!

Maria M. Boyer said...

Thanks for all the positive comments, ladies. Pat, I do salt and drain mine prior to frying for the parm, though I didn't last night for the sauteed veggies and it was still good. I forgot that part. Just so much good info on eggplant ... hard to think about all of it. Thanks for mentioning.
Maria