My best friend's Eggplant Parmesan recipe would be one of those family and not written down recipes. I am pretty certain I had never watched her make it, although I have listened to describe how she makes it and have eaten my share of it over the years. But making something you have only heard about and consumed is not the same as making it with a recipe. So I thought it might be time to take what I have learned about Eggplant Parmesan from her and convert it from a verbal to a written recipe. Now she wasn't here with me on the East coast when I made it, so I had to rely on palate to determine just how close I came in replicating her unwritten, family recipe. If I could be so bold (but not hubris), I think I came pretty darn close, not throw down ready close, but really close to (re)creating her Eggplant Parmesan recipe.
There has been a myth about eggplants perpetuated over the years, the myth being there are male and female eggplants. As this myth goes, male eggplants are less seedy, less bitter in their taste and have a round indentation (like an belly-button innie) on the bottom, while female eggplants have more seeds, are slightly bitter, and have a deeper line indentation on the bottom. Even though the myth is not technically true, there is a difference between eggplants. While I won't spend time going into the scientific explanation (interesting as it may be), you do want to look for the eggplants with the belly button innie bottoms when making Eggplant Parmesan. Very seedy eggplants will not hold up well to the frying process.
The eggplants are peeled and then thinly sliced. I started out using my mandoline to cut the eggplant, but because I had purchased the larger (and not the smaller Italian eggplants), I resorted to thinly slicing them with a knife. The thickness of the slices should be about an 1/8th inch. Once you have sliced all of eggplant, place on a platter lined with a paper towel and then cover with a slightly dampened paper towel while you getting ready to fry them.
This is a recipe where there is a fair amount of advance preparation. The marinara sauce needs to be made, the eggplant needs to be sliced, the eggs need to be lightly beaten, cheeses need to be grated, the flour lightly salted and peppered, and a paper bag needs to laid out on a large cutting board or counter. You make this labor (of love) process go so much easier if you do all of this preparation.
Remember this mantra "Flour first, egg second" as this is the process for getting the eggplant slices ready for frying. Each eggplant slice is dipped in the flour (both sides) and then shaken to remove the excess. Once dipped in flour, it is dipped in the lightly beaten eggs and also shaken to remove the excess before placed in the heated Crisco oil. For those of you wondering why Crisco instead of extra-virgin olive oil was used (the non-use of extra-virgin olive oil could be considered as some sort of Italian heresy), well it is because you don't want the flavor of the oil to overpower the flavor of the eggplant, the cheeses and the marinara sauce. And Crisco is a pretty flavorless oil that makes perfect lightly golden browned slices of eggplant.
Four pounds of eggplant sliced and fried turned out to be the perfect amount of eggplant for this recipe. There were enough slices (slightly overlapped) for creating five layers in this Eggplant Parmesan.
I used the whole milk mozzarella by Sargento, and of course, my favorite, Parmigiano-Regianno cheese for this recipe. The mozzarella would have been easier to grate if I would have just put it in the freezer for a little while, but there were so many decisions to made around the making of this recipe that I forgot to do this. So it took me a little while longer to grate the mozzarella. But hey, what's a few more minutes when you are investing this much time into the making of this Eggplant Parmesan (okay breathe and don't stop reading, if you remember yet another mantra 'all good things don't come easy, and most things easy aren't that good', then you too can be on your way to making this incredible dish for your family and friends).
You can make the marinara sauce the day before or the morning of, the choice is yours. I did it all in one day and it all worked, but the next time I will make the marinara sauce the day before to let its' flavor more fully develop.
In a 9" by 13" inch ceramic dish, place a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then layer with the eggplant, the cheeses and another layer of marinara sauce. Repeat until you have created 4 to 5 layers.
You will top with a final layer of the marinara sauce and then the cheeses. At this point you can cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake. The Eggplant Parmesan can be made the day of or the day before (which I would strongly suggest so you can spend your time on other things on the day of your dinner party or family dinner).
If you bake the Eggplant Parmesan right away, it will bake for about 45 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. If you bake it after it has been refrigerated, I would recommend baking for approximately 60 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven or until the top is lightly browned and the Eggplant Parmesan is heated through. Whenever I refrigerate a pre-made dish, I usually take it out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before putting it in the oven. When finished baking, lightly covered with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
The Eggplant Parmesan can be a meal all by itself (with a salad and dessert of course) or it can be part of a meal or buffet (it is a great accompaniment to a roasted chicken). Whichever way you decide to serve it, I hope I haven't said anything (yet) to make you not want to make this absolutely delicious Eggplant Parmesan. I will let you know if I am ever brave enough to suggest to my best friend that we have a Eggplant Parmesan thrown down. She's been making this recipe for decades, so I think the throw down is more of a fantasy than of any in the foreseeable future reality as I think I am a little too competitive to lose (especially to my best friend).
Eggplant Parmesan (inspired by my friend's Donna recipe)
4 pounds of eggplant (round bottom belly button innies), peeled and very thinly sliced or about 1/8 inch thick
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
Crisco oil (for sautéing)
salt and pepper
1 pound whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated (not the freshly made cheese)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
One recipe of Homemade Salsa Marinara or Marinara Sauce
1. Line a large cutting board or counter with a large brown paper bag.
2. Add a thin layer of Crisco oil to a large heavy frying pan. At a medium temperature (on an electric stove) or medium flame (on a gas stove), heat oil.
3. Dip each slice of thinly sliced eggplant into flour (lightly seasoned with salt and pepper), shake off excess flour, dip in egg ensuring the slice is fully coated shaking off excess egg. Place eggplant slice in heated oil. Working quickly, add five or more slices of coated/dipped eggplant into the pan.
4. When eggplant is lightly golden brown on one side (more than 30 seconds, less than a minute), turn and cook for approximately the same amount of time (or until the bottom is lightly browned).
5. Remove cooked eggplant and place on prepared brown paper bag to drain. (I gently placed a paper towel over the cooked eggplant to remove any excess oil.)
6. Continue frying until all eggplant slices are cooked.
7. On the bottom of a 9 by 13 baking pan, add a thin layer of marinara sauce. Layer a row of eggplant slices (slightly overlapping) followed by a sprinkling of the grated mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses and topped with another thin layer of marinara sauce. Repeat layering process until you have 4 to 5 layers. Top layer should be the marinara sauce and grated cheeses.
8. In a pre-heated 350 degree oven, bake Eggplant Parmesan for approximately 45 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through in the center. If assembling early in the day or the day before, bake the refrigerated Eggplant Parmesan for approximately 60 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through in the center.
9. Cover lightly with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
10. Optional: Serve with additional freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and/or extra marinara sauce.
Today is the six month anniversary of the creation of this food blog. Not only has this been a bit of a risk-taking journey for me, it has been a learning one too. And probably, I have come to see saltedsugaredspiced as something more akin to a marathon than a sprint experience. For those of you who have run a marathon, you know how incredibly satisfying and exhilarating running 26.2 miles can be. And it doesn't matter whether you finish in less than four hours or more than five, the medal you get at the end is the same for everyone. What is not the same is that everyone's journey to the marathon experience is different. The motivation is different, the training process is sometimes different, the head games that run through your head might be the most different (and for me, running was more of a head game), and the pace can be different.
Figuring out the concept of pacing is probably my life's longest journey to date. Slow can be really good or it can be not so good. Fast too can be really good or it can be not so good. For me, my life needs to have both kinds of pacing in it (although I getting much to old to ever think that my running pace would ever, could ever be fast). As I look at the concept of pacing as it applies to all of the friendships and relationships in my life, many began sprint-like while most have evolved into something very marathon-like satisfying. So my pacing journey has been two-fold: in trying to figure out which pace(s) to be at (when and with who) as well as in finding the balance between my pace and that of others in my life. And when I have gotten it right, it feels almost the same as that incredibly euphoric zen-like state of 'running in the zone'. And what happens when you go off course and it's not right? Well, that would depend on what or who it is. More importantly, it depends on if you are in it for the long run.