Friday, August 10, 2012

Tastier, Crispier Eggplant Parmesan


Decades ago, on PBS’s The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith fried up some eggplant slices and served them over pasta.  Even though I was quite young and hadn’t tried eggplants much, I thought the dish looked tasty.  (It could have something to do with the fact that the eggplant was fried…)

Many years later, I came across essentially the same dish in a Land o’ Lakes cookbook called Treasury of Country Recipes.  They called it “Garlic Parmesan Eggplant Slices,” and it was offered as a vegetable side.  Of course, by that time, I had actually eaten a dish called “Eggplant Parmesan,” a staple of most Italian restaurants, but I didn’t think these restaurant Eggplant Parmesans were as tasty as Jeff Smith/Land o’ Lakes versions, so I continued to just bread and fry up my eggplant.

Looking for a more interesting Eggplant Parmesan recipe—to add some variation to my fried eggplant slices—I recently found one by Bobby Flay which sounded right up my alley.  The recipe involved breading and frying eggplant, smothering the slices with four different kinds of cheese (regular and fresh mozzarella, fontina, and pecorino), and finishing with a home-made Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce.  (Here’s the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/eggplant-parmesan-recipe/index.html)

While the recipe sounded good—especially the four kinds of cheese!—I wanted something a bit simpler, something a bit more restrained, something for a weeknight.  So I combined parts of Jeff Smith, Land o’ Lakes, and Bobby Flay recipes and came up with one which is streamlined and very tasty.  One of the virtues of this recipe is that you can still enjoy fairly crisp fried eggplant slices even though these slices have been covered with some cheese and sauce.  Give this version a try!

Ingredients (to serve 4-5):

1 large eggplant (sliced almost ½ inch thick, about 12-15 slices total)
salt and pepper
3 eggs
½ cup flour
1½ cup or more panko bread crumbs (or other bread crumb)
1 t dried parsley flakes
½ t dried oregano
½ t dried thyme
canola or vegetable oil for frying

2½ cup or more jarred marinara sauce
2 large or 3 medium fresh bufala mozzarella balls (cut thinly to total 12-15 slices)
¼ cup grated parmesan
2 T fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonaded)

½ lb. angel hair pasta
2 T butter

(Note: I prefer panko to another kind of breadcrumb since they stay very crunchy and light.  Even if you don’t live near an Asian grocery store, you should be able to find these since the world has gotten very small in terms of finding international foods in your local stores.  As for marinara sauces, my current favorites are from the Mario Batali line.  They really do taste very fresh!)


Directions:

1.  Lightly salt and pepper your eggplant slices and let them rest on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.  Turn oven on to 350 degrees.

2.  While the eggplant slices rest, set up your 3 separate shallow bowls (or pie plates) to facilitate the preparation for frying.  In the first bowl, mix the flour with a bit of salt and pepper.  In the second bowl, crack and lightly beat your eggs—and just ever so slightly salt and pepper the eggs.  In the third bowl, mix the panko breadcrumbs with the dried parsley, oregano, and thyme, and lightly salt and pepper.  Fill a large frying pan with about ½ inch of oil deep enough to fry in, and heat on medium high to go up to 350 degrees.

3.  As you wait for the oil to come to the proper temperature, triple dip your eggplant slices.  Taking one slice of eggplant at a time, dip in first bowl (flour), dust off, and then dip in second bowl (egg), let drip, and dip in third bowl (breadcrumbs), shake off, and then place back on the rack.  Repeat with the rest of the slices.  After about 3 slices, you’ll find that your fingers are coated with flour, egg, and crumbs.  Wash your hands and start again until you are finished with all the slices.

4.  Now you’re ready to fry—if the oil is hot enough.  (Do not fry until the oil is hot enough since eggplants will soak up oil that is not hot enough, and you will be left with a greasy mess.)  You should be able to fit 4-5 slices of eggplant in a large pan, in a single layer, without crowding them.  After about 3-4 minutes, turn and fry on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.  Pick up each slice with tongs and let the oil drip back in the pan, and place fried slice back on the cooling rack.  Repeat.  You should be able to finish frying in 3 batches.

5.  Pour about 1/3 of the marinara sauce onto the bottom of a 9x13 casserole.  Lay down a layer of eggplant slices, top with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella.  Lay down another layer of eggplant and mozzarella, staggering the slices so that slices are not directly on top of each other.  Repeat if necessary until you are done with all eggplant and mozzarella slices (2-3 layers total).  Top with remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle the parmesan, and then pop the casserole into the hot oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.  Remove from oven and sprinkle the chiffonaded basil strips on top.

6.  While the eggplant is in the oven, boil a large pot of water and salt it when it comes to a full boil.  Cook your angel hair pasta until al dente (about 4 minutes, no more than 5!) and drain.  Put 2 T of butter into the hot pot and put the pasta back in.  Lightly salt and pepper and toss. On a plate, place 3 slices of eggplant next to a side of cooked pasta.  Enjoy!


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