I don’t know how you are coping with this pandemic, but given our ages, we’re sheltering in place, trying to stay calm and carry on. To this end, preparing comfort food has helped a lot.
A case in point. Last night, after a hectic day trying to set up a work-from-home connection, we were both not at our best. So with what we had on hand, I decided to make something easy and comforting: an improvised Chicken Parmigiana.
Eggplant Parmigiana was definitely not a favorite dish of mine when I was growing up. Nevertheless, it was often on our table for dinner, and I was thankful that it was there only as a side dish, so I could get away with having only a “teeny weeny” slice alongside the main course.
Today, however, in our home it’s a main dish that I have come to enjoy a lot. I attribute my later-in-life appreciation of it largely to Marcella Hazan, whose recipe in Essentials of Classic Italian Cookingyields a version that is lighter than many other renderings. The reduced weight can be attributed to the fact that, in her recipe, the eggplant is simply dredged with flour rather than being coated with flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying. She also recommends peeling the eggplant unless using the Italian baby variety.
Over time, I’ve experimented with Hazan’s recipe and have made it even lighter by using uncooked, canned crushed Italian tomatoes rather than a cooked sauce. I also skip the peeling and salting of the eggplant. I find that today’s eggplants are not as bitter as they once were, making the salt purging unnecessary. Finally, rather than slicing the eggplant lengthwise, I opt for rounds, which let’s me fry more slices at a time.
Eggplant Parmigiana Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large eggplant, sliced into 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 16-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
Fresh basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Into a heavy bottomed skillet, pour the olive oil until it comes unto about 1 inch along the sides.
While the oil is heating dredge with flour as many slices of eggplant that will fit into the skillet without crowding. Do the dredging in batches, right before frying each batch, to keep the floured slices from getting soggy.
When the oil is hot, carefully place the first batch into the skillet and fry, turning each slice once, until lightly browned on both sides. Place the fried slices on a platter or a baking pan lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Lightly salt the slices.
Continue frying and lightly salting in batches until all the slices are done. Do not stack the eggplant slices when they come out of the oil.
Add a pinch of salt to the uncooked canned tomatoes.
Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish with butter.
Line the bottom of the dish with the fried eggplant in a single layer. Spread a little less than 1/3 of the tomatoes over the eggplant. Make a layer of mozzarella and grate a liberal amount of Parmigiano Reggiano over it. Place a few torn pieces of basil over this layer.
Continue making layers with the eggplant, tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmigiano, and basil until you have used up the eggplant. Skip the basil on the top layer. From one large eggplant, I get about 12 slices, which in an 8 x 8 inch baking dish makes for three layers. You will most likely have some left over tomatoes.
Dot the top layer with some unsalted butter and place the dish into the upper third of the preheated oven.
Cook for about 35 minutes. The eggplant should be bubbling and the mozzarella nicely browned.
Allow to rest and settle for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.