Apr 23, 2020
Let Happy Help You Kick It Italian-Style With Eggplant Parmesan
My people were out of town, so I wandered into my favorite Italian grocery this weekend to get inspired about food. Italian groceries in Chicago are amazing. They have the best produce that ever fell off the back of a truck. And by that I mean
everything was probably stolen all the produce is reasonably priced and very fresh.
Once inside, I saw a clutch of old women mingling around a box on the floor, lips thin and poker faces activated. This is something you always want to look for at an Italian grocery, because it means that some serious shit is going down. I didn’t think twice about grabbing a produce bag and getting in line. Old ladies know things.
Lo and frigging behold, there was a box of fresh Sicilian eggplants, the pumpkin-shaped purple and white ones. Individually wrapped in tissue paper! One dollar each! At this time of you – are you kidding me? I got so excited because I’m down to my last quart and a half of roasted pasta sauce from the tomatoes I grew last summer. I made plans, right then and there.
Sicilian eggplants are creamy, almost seedless, and sweet. You should always use these for a Caponata. If no one else is watching, Sicilian eggplants make the best Eggplant Parmesan you have ever had in your life. That is exactly where I am going with this.
I don’t remember anything else after the eggplants. All I know for sure is that I grabbed some fresh mozzarella and a really good chunk of Parmesan cheese. So good that it stank up my car from all the way in the trunk.
So there I was, slicing up two eggplants, beating three eggs, and preheating the oven when it dawned on me: I forgot to buy breadcrumbs. I took apart my cupboards, convinced that I had something on hand, but no – totally all gone, except for about a cup of Panko.
I did what you would do, except that I’ll admit it in public. I used crackers. A cup of Panko, and 14 stone ground, square-shaped crackers. The crackers that come in a blue and white box, with a painting of a pasture on the front. Yep, those!
When you cook with crackers, you have to remember that they turn into oil sponges. This can be bad, and can turn a pretty good idea into something one might find off the burning platform at Deepwater Horizon. The best way to work around crackers and oil is to make sure the cracker crumbs are pulverized into dust. Spread them thin. When crackers become dust, they cannot absorb as much oil. Crumble the crackers in a blender set to nuclear annihilation. The crumbs won’t need salt – it’s all ready in there. I seasoned mine with cracked pepper and some Adobo, and I tasted it to make sure I wasn’t a jerk. Taste ingredients as you go, because you don’t want to find out you’re a jerk when it’s too late to compensate.
So, this is what you’re going to do. You can either peel your eggplants or just wash them and leave the skin on. I decided to peel mine, because the weird skin ring bugs me when I make leftover eggplant parm sandwiches.
Break out a non-stick pan and add extra virgin olive oil – not as much oil as one might use for frying fish, but more than what you need for a quick sauté. Heat that business up to medium. Dip the eggplant slices into the beaten eggs, dredge them in a bowl of crumbs, and fry until golden brown. Empty the pan between batches, making sure to wipe away any overcooked crumbs. Add more oil, heat, and repeat until you are out of eggplant.
Preheat your oven to 350°.
In a large casserole pan, spread about one and a half cups of pasta sauce. Line the pan with slices of fried eggplant. Sprinkle chopped fresh mozzarella and shaved Parmesan over the eggplant slices. Spread about a cup of sauce over this and add more eggplant. Give it another go-around with cheeses and sauce, cover with foil, and bake for about an hour, until it’s bubbly and brown. Remove the foil and dust the dish with more shaved Parmesan. Cook until the cheese melts – about 10-15 minutes.
Then the timer went off. O-69, we have Bingo! A proper Eggplant Parmesan.
All around the outside of our pan we have a caramelized crust of eggplant, cheese, and sauce. Hurry and get it before someone else does. I was by my self, so I ate it all.
Are we OK with this? Two eggplants (Sicilian if available), three eggs, some and seasoned crumbs. About a quart and a half of pasta sauce. Four balls of fresh mozzarella, a bowl of shaved Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil for cooking, and some cooked linguine with sauce. A nice salad on the side. Some wine.
It pays to watch little old ladies shopping for produce, doesn’t it?