Sometimes simpler can be better. This is true with many things including food. Complex cooking with multi- layers of flavor and texture has its place,however combining just a few select foods can sometimes take ones breath away. Such was the case with a lunch we served last week to some visiting bell ringers.
Our change ringing bells bring many bell ringers here from many places to hone their ringing skills. They come for different lengths of time and are often here for meals. Most of them prefer healthy foods. All of them love our fresh garden vegetables especially our salad bars. Right now when eggplant and tomatoes are at their best we put them together in a simple salad that almost made itself. Together with a few special seasonings this dish kept many of them coming back for just one more helping all through the meal. This dish along with some crusty French or Italian bread and a favorite cheese, if desired makes a most satisfying lunch or light supper. Two important tips to insure the best flavor – use very ripe tomatoes and serve the combined ingredients at room temperature NOT chilled.
- Cut the eggplant and tomatoes into cubes and salt both generously with
- Toss eggplant with 1/2 cup of oil and spread out on parchment lined pan. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden. Let Cool.
- Grate onion and add to tomatoes stir and leave at room temp.
- When eggplant is cooled to room temperature combine with tomatoes.
- Add oregano and place in serving dish. Sprinkle with olives and finely chopped basil.
- If desired top with grated cheese. This combination of ingredients is perfectly flavorful as is but if a little more tartness is preferred sprinkle with a splash of vinegar.
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.
Melanzane alla parmigiana – Eggplant Parmesan
- 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!