Eggplant: What’s not to love? September 20, 2012Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, Food, random stuff.
I love eggplant.
There, I said it. I don’t tolerate it. I don’t humor people who think I should like it – I love it.
Yes, it can be kind of squishy and slimy and the skins are, well, skins. But I just adore it.
It may have something to do with the fact that some of my favorite dishes – the ones that are kind of labor intensive, and, therefore, I don’t make them often (ratatouille, moussaka and parmesan) are kind of eggplant-heavy, so I guess there’s the absence-making-the-heart-grow-fonder factor, too.
But regardless, I’m a huge fan of the huge purple berry. But sadly, Peeps? He has had bad eggplant experiences, evidently. He’s Not A Fan. I set out to change that. And if that didn’t work, well, we had meatballs in the freezer, so he could at least play along.
I decided to go to my favorite need the best recipe go-to, Cook’s Illustrated, and make eggplant (and meatball) parmesan!
I started by salting the eggplant – I sliced it into 1/4-inch slices, which I tossed in a colander with a couple of teaspoons of coarse-grained kosher salt, then just walk away and let it drain. After about 3/4 of an hour, you’d be absolutely amazed by how much liquid oozes out of those buggers!
Meanwhile, I combined what amounted to 4-5 ounces of fresh bread crumbs (take some nice, crusty bread and toss it in the food processor) with 1/2 cup of grated parm, a pinch, maybe 1/8 tsp., of salt, and 1/4 tsp. black pepper in a pie plate.
And I beat a couple of eggs together in another pie plate.
Oh, and I took 1/2 cup of flour and mixed it in a ziptop bag with 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
We’re setting up an assembly line!
In the meantime, I also preheated to 425 degrees, not just the oven but a sheet pan, as well.
We want that pan nice and hot – we’re going to basically oven-fry the little buggers!
And once I’ve got the assembly line set up (the flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and then another sheet pan with a rack), then it’s time to squeeze the stuffing out of the eggplant slices.
Or at the very least, squeeze any stray liquid out of the eggplant, anyway. I laid them out on a towel, covered them with another towel, and just pressed down until I saw towel-marks.
And then, really, it’s just standard breading technique. Just like you’d do for fried chicken – shake a few slices in the bag o’ flour, then dip in the egg, shaking the excess off, then roll in the breadcrumb mixture until they’re covered, lightly kind of pressing the crumbs into the eggplant.
And then each eggplant slice goes to “rest” on the rack set over the sheet pan. They’ll kind of set a bit while they’re waiting for the oven.
And speaking of the oven.
Once all the eggplant is breaded and resting (and you’ve combined any remaining egg and cheesy breadcrumbs and divided them between the cat’s and the dog’s dinner dishes!) carefully pull the (really) hot pan from the oven and dump about 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil right on that pan, then swirl it around (carefully!) so the entire pan is coated.
Then lay the breaded eggplant slices on the pan in a single layer, and stuff it back in the oven for half an hour, flipping the eggplant over after 20 minutes.
Mmmm. . . toasty.
I’m going to admit this, but only to you. At this point is when I LOVE to sample the eggplant. No sauce, no cheese, just breaded and “fried” – I could stand there and eat it all evening! But I do burn my tongue when I do that.
Next, and here’s the good part – we’re going to start layering the eggplant (and random meatballs) in a pan. Since there was no guarantee that Peeps was going to not hate it (as if!), I put the meatballs right next to half of the eggplant slices.
Everything got covered thoroughly with a nice layer of marinara sauce – I used about a pint altogether, and used a bit more than half on the first eggplant layer.
Oh, and, of course, some mozzarella cheese! I had some shredded parm, as well, that I added.
After that, the rest of the eggplant, then the rest of the sauce.
But here’s the cool thing – we don’t completely cover the eggplant with the sauce – remember how hard we worked to get it so nice and crispy and toasty?
Yeah, bury it in sauce, and you lose that, don’t you? So I just left some bits peeking out from under the sauce – that’ll stay crispy, while the stuff under the sauce will soften, and it’ll be a whole textural adventure!
But you’ll probably want to put cheese on top of everything though. I mean, it’s cheese, right?
Stick the pan in the (still hot) oven just until that cheese is nice and melted, and, if you’re me, that means melted AND slightly browned, because if there’s anything nicer than melty cheese, it’s melty BROWNED cheese!
Of course, just like lasagna, you’re going to want to let it rest for about 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven.
Now might be a good time to cook some pasta or slice some bread, I guess. Oh, and go out and pick some fresh basil (and maybe a bit of parsley) to chop.
And then, finally, plate it up, sprinkle with your just-chopped herbs, and watch your husband realize that eggplant really is good stuff!