Thursday, January 18, 2007

Eggplant with Marinated Tomatoes

Adapted from It’s About Time by Michael Schlow

Serves 4

Since I mention Michael Schlow in the recipe for Penne A.O.P., I think I should pass along one of his (I am not exaggerating) fabulous recipes. This dish is a version of eggplant alla parmigiana unlike any eggplant parmesan you know. It is startlingly delicious with unexpected bright fresh flavors.
Last summer I made this in the country when eggplant and tomatoes were at the local produce stand and at their absolute best. My precious dad, Anthony, who was still alive then, was there, and he and Walter and I gobbled this up, too intent on eating to speak. It's one of my favorite memories of my father, and I never eat it without thinking about that day.
The original recipe calls for the eggplant to be cut into 2-inch rounds and to use one round per person. I didn't have the book with me the first time I made this. I only had the recipe copied down on a piece of paper and hadn't written that part down, so I sliced the eggplant the way I normally do when I bread and fry it - into slightly larger than ¼- inch-thick rounds. 

A Note About Choosing Eggplant

In an early issue of Cook's Illustrated, there was an article discussing the gender of eggplants. It was suggested when buying regular large eggplants, you should check the bottom to see if the one you are holding is "male" or "female" as any male will necessarily have less seeds than the female. It was suggested that the "male" eggplant has a flat spot where it's removed from the stem, and the "female" has an indented spot.

This theory was refuted by Cook's Illustrated on November 1, 1993. They said that some biologists had written in to say eggplants have no gender. Also, Paula Wolfert advised Cook's that a lighter eggplant has less seeds than a heavier one, so it makes sense to judge the weight when choosing eggplants.

Ever since I first read the unfounded tip to choose a supposedly "male" eggplant in Cook's, I have used it and have had what I guess is just dumb luck. See for yourself.

Eggplant

1 cup flour (I usually use Wondra when making a bound breading)
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
1 cup bread crumbs (preferably Panko)
1 pinch fresh thyme, chopped (optional; I like thyme but only in measured doses)
1 pinch fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)
1 large pinch fresh parsley (optional)
1 large unpeeled eggplant sliced into slightly thicker than 1/4-inch rounds
6 ounces (¾ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
4 heaping tablespoons Basil-Marinated Tomatoes (recipe follows)
8 to 12 slices shaved from a piece of parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Place the flour on a large flat plate, and season with salt and pepper. (I don't automatically season things with pepper, especially when I'm cooking, but this is one time I think it adds to the equation.)

Beat the eggs with the 2 tablespoons of water and a little salt, and put them through a sieve into a small bowl. This makes the eggs lump free so the breadcrumbs adhere evenly. Pour the eggs from the bowl onto another flat plate.

Combine the bread crumbs, thyme, rosemary , and/ or parsley (whatever you are using) onto a third flat plate.

Dip both sides of an eggplant slice in the flour, shaking off any excess, then in the beaten eggs, allowing the excess egg to drip back onto to plate, then in the bread crumbs, coating both sides evenly. Place each breaded slice on a clean platter as you go along, and repeat the above until all the slices are breaded. Refrigerate the platter of breaded eggplant slices for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove the eggplant from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before cooking. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant slices, being careful not to crowd them.

Fry each slice of eggplant until golden brown on both sides. Transfer the fried eggplant to a baking sheet, and place the baking sheet in the hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the oven, and pat the eggplant with paper towels to remove any excess oil.

Place each slice on a plate, top with the Basil-Marinated Tomatoes, garnish generously with the shaved parmigiano, and serve. I usually serve three slices of the eggplant topped with tomatoes as a dinner serving. One slice would be an excellent starter. Two slices would be perfect for lunch. If you try the recipe with 2-inch-thick slices of eggplant (which I have never done), I think one slice would be a dinner serving.

Basil-Marinated Tomatoes

Makes 1½ cups

This is like an Italian-style salsa and can be used for lots of things, including an uncooked pasta sauce; just use your imagination.

4 ripe tomatoes, cut into medium dice - plum, round, or cherry tomatoes, whatever are the best tomatoes available
8 to 10 large basil leaves, washed, dried, and torn into small pieces
2 ounces (1/4 cup) of your best extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt

Combine everything in a bowl, and marinate for at least one hour and no more than two. Before serving, drain some of the liquid, or else use a slotted spoon to serve.

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