How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Parm Perfection

Nueva Receta has been a bit quiet of late, as our late summer has had us enjoying some familiar recipes and more than our usual amount of dining out, during a lot of short family trips far from our recipe shelf. But now we are back in our culinary groove, and our attention returns to, yes, eggplant.

Over the weekend, we enjoyed a terrific end-of-summer party with friends who shared all kinds of local bounty. Our contribution included our raspberry whitbeer and the first bottle of our Barolo -- which turned out very well indeed, and is expected to get even better --  any my second batch of weapons-grade ratatouille of the year.

Because our daughter became very fond of eggplant Parmesan, my attention the next day turned to that vegetarian mainstay. I have seen her enjoy it at quite a few restaurants and though my previous attempts have been less than stellar, I decided to try again, with particular attention to texture. As regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn, I turned once again to kitchen goddess Deborah Madison, only slightly modifying her recipe on page 279 of Vegetarian Cooking for All.

I do not want to give the impression that cheese is always the route to bliss in Madison's pages, but it did once again contribute to the success of this dish.

I started with one large eggplant from Hanson Farm -- about as local as possible. It was fresher than anything from the grocery store would be, but it did take me a couple of days to get to this recipe. So where Madison writes that the slices (1/3-inch) should be salted for 30 to 60 minutes unless the eggplant is farm fresh, I decided to compromise. I very lightly salted the slices on both sides and left them out for 15 minutes while packing up the car for said daughter's return to school (this was to be a farewell dinner).

I then blotted them, remembering an overly salty try at this recipe last year, and brushed both sides with olive oil. I placed them under the broiler, first a bit close, then a bit far, then back close, until both sides were browned, almost charred. It is the nature of eggplant that they never got crisp (as they might if I had let the salting go longer), but I got them to a nice, caramelized state.

Meanwhile, I had mixed a small can of tomato paste with a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce, in lieu of the fresh tomato sauce that Madison calls for. As this heated, I stirred in slivers of basil cut directly from our garden. I then brushed a very small amount of oil into a baking pan, spooned in some of the sauce, and layered the semi-charred eggplant -- I had just one layer, but more would have been great. Over this I sprinkled shredded mozzarella (Madison recommends slices of fresh mozz if available) and spooned over the remaining sauce.

And then, of course, I sprinkled some cheese from our friends in Parma, grateful that the earthquake earlier this year did not get it all! I then baked for 25 minutes at 475 (convection), so that the sauce itself became sweet and sticky, along with the cheese. I had managed not to exceed the recipe's cheese parameters -- as I am often tempted to do -- but the meltiness made this dish just perfect for our daughter's sendoff.

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