Eggplants and tomatoes have a natural affinity for one other. Although thought of as vegetables, they are both fruits. They grow on vines, contain seeds and, like sweet peppers and potatoes, are members of the nightshade plant family. While tomatoes are among the most popular foods on the planet, eggplant is often rejected. People who really like the taste of eggplant enjoy it all year long, frequently in dishes that include tomatoes, like ratatouille and caponata. However, people who say they don't like eggplant, or have never tried it, won't touch a tomato dish if it contains even a hint of eggplant. But, with its out-of-this-world aroma and mouth-watering eye appeal, fried eggplant parmigiana, with its layers of homemade tomato sauce and melted fresh mozzarella cheese topping, is one hard dish to refuse. Eggplants, with skins tender enough to be left unpeeled, and tomatoes, bursting with flavor, are at their peak. There will never be a better time to prepare eggplant parmigiana this year and, possibly, no better way to eat it. Should you still encounter someone who won't try your eggplant dish, keep it in the family and offer tomatoes in the form of an Insalata Caprese. Insalata Caprese is a beautiful salad and a tomato lover's dream, be they a nightshade enthusiast, or not.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 recipe Quick Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce (recipe follows)
1 1/2 pounds eggplant
Salt (for "sweating" eggplant)
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour, seasoned with a little salt and ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs, plain or seasoned
Extra light tasting olive oil, for frying, plus more, as needed
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
Parsley for garnish, optional
3 cups peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes (with juice), fresh or canned (If using fresh tomatoes, you'll need about 2 1/2 pounds.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1tablespoon minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
Place tomatoes and their juice in a 4-quart non-reactive saucepot. Over medium-high heat, bring tomatoes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until tomatoes are softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir olive oil, butter, basil leaves, parsley, and garlic into sauce. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes more, or until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*Kitchen Ade Note: Use an egg-slicer for slicing fresh mozzarella cheese.
Remove the stem and blossom ends of the eggplant. Cut eggplant into even 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch circles and salt lightly. Place slices in a colander set over a dish to catch water that "sweats" out of the eggplant. Allow eggplant to stand for 30 minutes, then rinse eggplant and dry completely on paper towels.
Place flour, eggs and breadcrumbs into three separate shallow pans. Dip eggplant slices into flour, shaking off excess flour; then into egg, allowing excess egg to drip off; then into breadcrumbs, covering well on both sides. After coating, place eggplant onto a wax paper-lined platter while oil is heating. Pour oil into a large 12-inch skillet to depth of 1/4-inch. Heat oil over medium-high, to 325 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer. Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, per side. (Working in batches, do not crowd eggplant when frying, changing oil, as needed.) Drain on paper towels.
Kitchen Ade Note: Freeze cooled fried eggplant, between sheets of wax paper, in a tightly sealed container, for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw, in the refrigerator, or on the counter, in its wrappings, before using in recipes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place fried eggplant slices on top of the sauce. Spoon another thin layer of sauce over the eggplant. (If freezing eggplant for future use, make up to this point, then follow directions for freezing.) Return pan to the oven. Bake until heated through, about 20 to 25 minutes, then remove pan from oven. Top each eggplant slice with some of the cheese. Return pan to oven (or place pan under broiler) until cheese melts and is bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes, before serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve with additional sauce. Makes 4 servings. Kitchen Ade Note: Eggplant may be frozen unbaked for up to 3 months. Cool eggplant and sauce and tightly cover with plastic wrap, then cover plastic wrap with aluminum foil. (Do not place aluminum foil directly in contact with the tomato sauce -- it will react.) When ready to eat, place pan, wrapped, in the refrigerator or counter, and let it sit until it thaws. (Do not bake eggplant while it is still frozen.) Remove the wrappings, and bake as directed above.
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
Slice tomatoes and cheese into even 1/2-inch slices and stack them, alternately, using 2 slices each of tomatoes and cheese for each serving. Garnish with basil leaves and basil ribbons. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Best served at room temperature.
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