Monday, July 20, 2015

Eggplant Parmesan

Adapted from Melissa Clark, NYTimes

When I  wrote this post, NYTimes Cooking was available without charge to anyone who wanted to use it, but as of now, you either have to subscribe to it as a stand-alone feature or subscribe to the NYTimes. I find NYTimes Cooking to be a treasure trove of recipes, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone willing to listen. Since its inception I have added a number of its recipes to my own repertoire.

Melissa Clark wrote a piece for the NYTimes called Parmigiana Dishes to Warm Weary Souls. It's definitely worth your time to read it if you have access to it. She uses panko when she makes Parmesan dishes. I always use 4C Plain Unseasoned Panko when I fry eggplant to serve unadorned with dinner as a side dish, and when I make Eggplant Parmesan, I use 4C Plain Dried Breadcrumbs. Plain dried breadcrumbs are what recipe writer and book author Rachel Roddy uses. As I feel she has inherited the mantle of doyenne of Italian cooking from Marcella Hazan, I follow her advice. 

Eggplant Breaded with Plain Dried Breadcrumbs

This is not the Eggplant Parmesan you would make if you were using Marcella Hazan's recipe in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking or eating in Italy. My guess is it's a version of Eggplant Parmesan attributable to the Italian-American immigrants who arrived in America in large numbers between the 1880's and the 1920's. My own grandmother was born in 1897 in her family's apartment at 193 Mott Street, New York City. She was the youngest of eight children, and the first to be born here, making her the first natural-born American in my family as my mother was from England. "Nanny" was a good cook and made fried eggplant often, but I don't remember her ever making eggplant parmesan.


Here are some things I find helpful when making this dish.

A breading set - the set I use, is by Küchenprofi and is on and off available at Amazon. I laughed at this the first time I saw one like it in a catalog, but later when I used one at Lamar's, I was sold on it and ordered it immediately. Now I use it all the time - for schnitzel, chicken cutlets, anything I want to make a bound breading for. It's A MILLION times easier than using three plates so worth getting if you bread a lot of things.

Pyrex 11-cup casserole (I found it first in the grocery store) to bake it in.

I grate the Parmesan with a classic Microplane.

For the mozzarella I use the large holes on a box grater.

I use the medium strainer from a set I got at Bed, Bath & Beyond made by SALT. It is no longer available. The beauty of it for this recipe is that the mesh is not too fine, and eggs strain through it easily so they are smooth, leaving the rope-like protein structures, which interfere with smooth breading, behind.

Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Melissa Clark, NYTimes

When I am ready to bake this dish, I make sure the oven has been at 350°F for 15 minutes before I put the dish in.

Serves 4 with leftovers

A little butter
1 recipe of Melissa Clark's Simple Tomato Sauce
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella
1 to 1-½ cups of grated Parmesan cheese (Get the really good stuff; don’t skimp here.) 
6 large eggs (You can start with 4 to see if it's enough, then use 2 more if it isn't.)
Flour (I use Bob's Red Mill White Rice Flour, NOT Sweet, but I used to use Wondra. These flours are granular, which helps keep the breading from being too heavy.)
Plain dried breadcrumbs  (Do NOT use seasoned.)
Vegetable oil (I use refined peanut or expeller-pressed grapeseed oil.)
2 globe or 4 - 5 very small Italian (not skinny Japanese) eggplants

Either make the Simple Tomato Sauce and let it cool before proceeding with layering the ingredients, or make it ahead so it is cool. Put the sauce into a bowl.

Beat the eggs, and put them through a not-too-fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Don’t skip this step; it removes the chalazae (thick rope-like protein strands) from the egg, which makes the breadcrumbs clump rather than letting them adhere smoothly to the eggplant. It's a small thing that makes a big difference. 

Wash and dry the eggplant; don't peel it. Cut the eggplant into slices about ⅓-inch thick.

Set up your station to bread the eggplant - one plate with flour, one plate with the beaten-and-strained eggs, one plate with breadcrumbs.  

Liberally season the flour with salt and pepper, and stir with a fork to mix thoroughly.

Coat the eggplant first with the flour, then with the eggs, and finally with the breadcrumbs, setting the breaded pieces of eggplant on a platter as you go along.

When the eggplant pieces are all coated, shallow fry them in vegetable oil until golden-brown on each side. Be careful not to burn them. Place each piece of browned eggplant on another platter as you go along until all of the eggplant is done.

While the eggplant cools a little:

Grate the mozzarella, and put the grated cheese on a plate.

Grate the Parmesan cheese, and put it on another plate.

Assemble everything within easy reach - the sauce, the two cheeses, and the platter of eggplant. 

Take a casserole close to 3-inches deep, and butter it. Then add in this order (1) a thin layer of sauce, (2) a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, (3) slices of eggplant, (4) grated mozzarella, and start over again.

The order is:

Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese
And so on.....

Do as many layers as will fit in the casserole, ending with sauce and Parmesan cheese. Do not end with mozzarella. By the time I am done, I have used all of the sauce and all of the mozzarella.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 minutes or until the eggplant is bubbling all the way through, and the top is just starting to brown a little. Let rest at room temperature for ten to fifteen minutes before cutting to serve.

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Before Going into the Oven - Parmesan Cheese on Top

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