Divine Dining: Eggplant Parmesan — a tasty treat
Every person has their own way of winding down, of relaxing and letting go of the stress of their day. For some, this involves a vigorous run outdoors. For others, it means melding into the sofa in front of your favorite television show.
For me, there is nothing more soothing or cathartic than lazily strolling the aisles of the grocery store. I revel in running into people I know, sampling tasty treats and seeing what looks especially sumptuous that day.
I recently found myself in that incredibly indulgent foodie heaven called Fresh Market because I needed to buy many different kinds of bread for a church event. As I wandered around sipping my (free!) coffee and admiring the perfectly-placed fruit and vegetables, something sang to me: regal plum, delicate petite eggplants. I do realize that the admission of singing vegetables in the grocery store is a bit worrying. I bought a few of those little beauties and, when pondering options for what to create with them, one favorite recipe immediately came to mind: eggplant parmesan.
When eggplant is dipped in panko bread crumbs, sautéed to golden perfection in olive oil and then layered with tomato sauce, cheese and basil and baked until tender and bubbling, it just, well, sings. No more rubbery, watery eggplant parm, y’all. This is the only way to treat those trilling treats.
4 small eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/3 inch rounds
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs, toasted in a dry hot pan until golden brown (these are Japanese breadcrumbs and are much crisper than the usual “sawdust” variety)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
7 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced
1/4 c. grated fontina cheese
1/4 c. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup loosely packed basil, chopped with a sprinkling reserved for garnish
1 24 oz. jar of tomato sauce (any variety will do, though of course you can use homemade)
salt and pepper
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat 2 T olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk 2 eggs with 1 T water and set aside. Combine toasted breadcrumbs, parmesan red pepper flake, 1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Dip eggplant slices in the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumb mixture. Sauté in olive oil until golden, about 3 minutes, then turn and cook an additional couple of minutes. Continue cooking eggplant slices, adding more oil as needed because they will soak it up. Stir together remaining egg, ricotta, basil and garlic. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 4x8 inch glass baking dish, then place an even layer of eggplant on top. Spread a layer of the ricotta mixture on top of the eggplant, then add more sauce, then another eggplant layer. Continue layering until dish is nearly full, ending with tomato sauce. Bake, covered with foil, 30 minutes, then remove from oven, uncover and layer mozzarella and fontina cheese on the top. Bake, uncovered, an additional 10 minutes until bubbling and beginning to brown at the edges. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving (to avoid a molten eggplant situation). Top with torn basil leaves just before serving. Go on admit it: that eggplant’s singing to you, isn’t it?
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The Rev. Whitney Wilkinson is pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church.