Saturday, January 22, 2011

"are you lost?"

the food: eggplant parmesan
the song: "Preparedness" The Bird & The Bee

How important are recipes in cooking? Personally, I've always liked having a set of directions to follow and have relied heavily on recipes for the majority of time I've been cooking. Lately, though, I've found myself "winging it" more often than not. One of my unspoken goals for this year, actually, is to trust my food instincts and become a more intuitive cook

There are some recipes that I've made so many times I know them by heart. I'm pretty proud to have a really good eggplant parmesan under my belt. The idea is for a lighter eggplant frying is required. That is an extremely good thing since my attempts at frying up to this point have consisted of lots of fearful yelping about hot oil, then greasy results because of said fear. But I'm fine with being a bad fry cook. If I was good at it, I might would most certainly fry things all the time.

My stepmom first sent me this recipe a few years back when I was just getting started in my own kitchen (thanks, Linda!). I have followed this recipe step by step so many times that I can now do it almost blindfolded. The thing I really love about this eggplant parmesan is that it has grown with me as a cook. You can make it as simple or fancy as you like, depending on the occasion and time you have available. 

The original recipe calls for jarred tomato sauce, but these days I usually whip up my own marinara while the eggplant slices are baking. Similarly, you can build upon the basic recipe, adding extra ingredients between layers of tomato sauce and cheese. This time, I did spinach and artichokes. Pesto would also be good.

No matter how simple or elaborate you make it, this eggplant does take a little time. But it is worth the effort. The dish feeds a lot of people and is always a hit. Serve with a bit of pasta and even more vegetables on the side. And don't be afraid to get creative. Recipes are a nice starting point, but food is more fun with a little improvisation.

Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from Dallas Morning News

2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2- 2 pounds)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (divided)
2 1/2 cups marinara (homemade or your favorite store bought variety*)
1-2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (divided)
 Optional additions:
spinach or other greens, chopped
marinated artichoke hearts
sun dried tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil two large baking sheets and a medium-large baking dish. Set aside.

Slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and water until frothy. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine panko bread crumbs, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

One at a time, dip the eggplant slices into the egg-white mixture, then coat both sides with the breadcrumbs. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until eggplant is golden brown and very tender (about 20 minutes), turning halfway through.

Spread about 1/2 cup of prepared marinara in the bottom of the baking dish. When eggplant is done, arrange half the slices over the sauce, overlapping them slightly. Cover with about half of the remaining sauce, then top with any optional ingredient you might be using, then 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Arrange the remaining eggplant slices on top, pressing them down into an even layer. Top with remaining sauce, additional ingredients, and finish with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake, uncovered, until the sauce bubbles and the top is browned, about 20-25 minutes.

*Whether store bought or homemade, I like to include some garden herbs and a bit of cracked red pepper in my tomato sauce.


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