Our gardens are bursting at the seams with eggplants. I just love the shiny purple beauties and feel slightly sorry for the bad rap they get from opinionated palates! Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to attempt to set those opinions straight and give you some trusted recipes that will transform this ordinary vegetable into an extraordinary culinary delight.
In writing this, I am reminded of a wonderful book I read many years ago as a young Sister when I was exploring my Jewish roots. The book, To Life! by Rabbi Harold Kushner, is filled with wonderful insights into human nature and God. I underlined over and over as I read through the book. One particular quote has remained with me, the author says, “To be human is to choose to be good; to take something unholy and make it holy, something ordinary and transform it into the extraordinary. To sanctify the world and live a Godly life”.
Praying that co-working with God today will begin to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy (non-aluminum) saucepan.
Add the onion and half of the basil, the Italian seasoning and the salt.
Allow to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Cook until the onion is translucent and then add the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are soft and have melted into a sauce.
Add the sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.
Continue cooking so the sauce can thicken and add tomato paste, if desired for a thicker sauce (you don’t want your sauce to be watery!).
Adjust seasonings to taste.
Cut the eggplant into slices and sprinkle with salt. Put them in a colander and leave for 30 min. while the bitter juices drain away.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry on a paper towel lined sheet pan. Mix the flour in a separate pan with some salt and pepper and lightly dust both sides of the eggplant with flour.
Heat enough olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet, or other heavy pan, and fry the eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides (watch your heat so the oil doesn’t burn – lower is better!). Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil, and repeat.
To assemble: spoon a little of the tomato sauce into a 12” oven dish, or 13x9” pan. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices. Add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, then a layer of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining basil leaves. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and repeat the layers to use up the ingredients, ending with the cheese.
Put into the oven and bake for 20-30 min. or until the top is slightly golden and crusty. Cool slightly before cutting into servings. If you are using a cold, ready-made sauce, allow a little extra cooking time (if sauce is not already hot). Serve hot or at room temperature.
It works well to make this the day ahead. Cover the casserole with foil and heat in a low oven for about an hour or until heated through. This also freezes well – assemble in a pan and freeze uncooked. When ready to use, thaw, and bake as above. You will enjoy this during the winter months if you have a harvest now. Andiamo mangiare!
Our community hosted a retreat day recently for Deacons from a local parish. We served this wonderful sandwich combination which was inspired by the flavors of Italy. Everyone raved and took pictures. Afterwards, the retreatants told us that this place was going to become their annual quiet-day destination. (We hope it wasn’t just based on the food, but we do know it plays a special part!)
As a young sister and chef-in-training, I was taught to pray before my menu preparation. Often the Holy Spirit will nudge us to serve food that triggers memories for people; either of their childhood, their nationality, or maybe a comfort food that would bring healing in a special way. To be used by God in this way is a blessing.
As Brother Lawrence so aptly put it, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” ― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
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Bethany Sun-dried Tomato and Turkey Panini
In Italian the word panino [pa'ni:no] is the diminutive form of pane (bread) and refers to a bread roll. Panino imbottito (stuffed panino) refers to a sandwich, but the word panino is also often used alone to refer to a sandwich in general. The plural form of "panino" in Italian is panini.
This is the time of year when Eggplants are bountiful.. at least in our garden. I find it funny that you either love eggplant or you hate it. During my time at Villa Via Sacra, one of the Brothers told me that he had his whole birthday menu ready for me… 2 months early! It included his favorite dish, Eggplant Parmigiana – I wasn’t surprised. This Brother, like me, has a real appreciation for good food, cooked well. Every time I made the dish, his eyes would practically well up with tears, he loved it that much. So, I figured EVERYONE would like my eggplant parmigiana and took great pride in making the dish. But, visas expired and we had a new rotation of Brothers from our community at the Villa. I thought I’d make them this special dish for their first night in Italy, and was expectant to hear the “oooo’s” and “aahh’s” emanating from them. One of the new Brothers walked into the kitchen and asked what was for dinner. I tightened my apron strings, smoothed out the wrinkles, stood a little taller and declared “My eggplant parmigiana!”
The brother blanched before me, his usual sunny disposition turned to stone, the room went quiet. He HATED Eggplant. I was devastated, my ego deflated; this was going to be a long three months…
Italians love the concept of involtini… something filled and rolled up. I love it too. The time it takes to make this recipe is minimal, and the presentation is delightful, especially if you take the time to wrap each eggplant with a chive before baking. I didn’t have the chives on hand when making this dish for the family, but I still thought the simplicity was beautiful and a different ‘take’ on “eggplant parmigiana”.
P.S. – this Brother became an eggplant lover and I learned more about the meaning of pride!
Preheat the oven to 400* F. Oil a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the eggplant slices on the pan and brush on both sides with 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle on the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. They will then be supple and slightly golden.
While the eggplant is in the oven, make a simple tomato sauce by whirring the tomatoes briefly in a food processor or break up with your hands. In a skillet, over low heat, sauté the onion for another minute in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture briefly, just to blend flavors, about 2 minutes.
Remove the eggplant from the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 350*F.
On each eggplant piece, place a piece of prosciutto or ham, a whole basil leaf, a slice of cheese and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Roll pieces from the small end forward, and secure the bundle with a toothpick or tie a chive around it.
Slather the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish with some of the tomato sauce, and arrange the involtini seam-side down. Over each bundle spread some more tomato sauce and a scattering of the Parmigiano. Warm well in the oven, about 15 min. Andiamo mangiare!
Recipe adapted from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes