Now here's a dish that I've been making since I was 19. I can't really take credit for creating it (obviously), nor can I feel very honest about calling it "eggplant parmigiana," but it's one of my signature dishes and a winner every time. I learned how to make this one summer when I visited a friend who was staying in the NYU dorms as a part of a summer enrichment program. My friend's friend had just returned from Italy where she learned how to make eggplant parmigiana and tiramisu. It was my first time in New York, and I'll never forget scouring the markets for the freshest eggplants, basil and mascarpone cheese (for the tiramisu). Over the years I've modified and simplified the recipe to suit my needs, but I've never had a dissatisfied customer.
I hadn't made eggplant parm in a while, so when the familia found out what I was making it became a party. My 7-year-old decided to make a salad dressing she'd learned to make earlier that day at the Learning Garden (on SE 60th), and let me tell you - it was FABULOUS. Truly, this is a girl after my own heart. So we accompanied the main dish with a simple green salad with Sasha's vinaigrette. Here are the recipes:
Carolina's Eggplant Parmigiana
3 smaller (round) or 2 large eggplants
Flour for dredging
Good quality marinara sauce
2 cups of shredded mozzrella*
Start by cutting the ends off the eggplant and cutting lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice and layer in a colander. Take a gallon-size ziploc bag and fill with water then zip shut. Place the colander with eggplant in the sink and put the bag full of water right on top so that its weight can help squeeze out the extra water. This process helps remove the bitter bite that eggplant can sometimes have. Let sit for at least 1/2 an hour.
Next, get ready to prep the eggplant for frying by placing flour in a pie pan and beating eggs in a bowl large enough to dip eggplant slices in. (This time I added some dried oregano from my "garden" and freshly ground pepper to the beaten eggs). In the meantime, put about 1/4 cup of vegetable and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Take each slice of eggplant and dip first in flour, then in eggs until well-covered. Put the prepared eggplant slices into the hot oil and fry about one minute on each side until just golden brown. Repeat this process, (putting the fried slices between paper towels to absorb any excess oil) until all slices are fried.
Now it's time to assemble the dish! First, preheat your oven to 350. Take a 9x13 glass or ceramic pan and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of marinara sauce in the bottom, spreading it evenly. Place some slices of eggplant right on top of the sauce, and spoon some more sauce on top of the slices. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over this layer, then place another layer of eggplant on top, trying to get as even coverage as you can. Continue to layer sauce, cheese and eggplant until you're all out of eggplant slices, topping with extra mozzarella. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until cheese on top is melted, bubbly or golden. When it comes out of the oven, you can cut into it just as you would a lasagne, and it is not only lovely but tastes divine!
*I have tried different variations of cheese in this dish and encourage you to do the same and find what you like: provolone is good, mixing in real shredded parmesan makes it feel more authentic, a nice salty Edam adds bite and originality......
Sasha's Learning Garden Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (we had basil, rosemary and oregano)
1/4 Tsp sea salt
Freshly ground garlic pepper
Whisk it all together! Enjoy on your salad or use as a dip for crusty bread.