Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stacks of Eggplant... or, What I Did for Halloween... or Damn You Meatless Monday!

This is just the second Halloween we've had with Turtle.  This year he was a monkey.  We, of course, played along when everyone called him curious George.  It was a fun Halloween.  He understood it a little better this year.  He still can't eat candy, but that's okay...  I can.

But we also deal with Mom coming home, needing to have dinner ready, getting out to the shops before they are out of Halloween candy and they no longer are in a treat mood.

Here in NYC, we do Halloween differently.  We don't go to people's homes.  At least not in most neighborhoods.  Nobody has candy in the apartment buildings, you can't exactly buzz in every kid, and we live in a place with lots of apartment buildings, not so many single family homes.  Even in Astoria.

So, instead you go to the main strip and you hit the shops.

It works for us.

But with so much happening, dad needed something easy for this meatless Halloween Monday.  And it's something Turtle loved...  and I mean, LOVED.

Eggplant Parm - My Way.

It's pretty simple.  Here's what you need:

two eggplants
panko flakes (bread crumbs)
1 or 2 eggs
sea salt
fresh mozzarella
fresh basil
a good tomato sauce

Yeah, that's it.  And NO oil.  yup.  No oil.

First, peel your eggplant.  If you don't like it because it's bitter, get rid of the rind.  I have this fantastic serrated peeler and it's like slicing through butter.  Once peeled, cut nice round slices of eggplant, about 1/4 inch thick.  Set them on a baking sheet lined with a tea towel.  sprinkle a little sea salt on them.  Just a pinch.  Let them sit.  You're pulling excess moisture out.  Eggplants are like little sponges.

This is the reason I'm not using oil.  If you're oil isn't hot enough, you're basically eating an oil sponge.

So, give your eggplant time to rest.  Just set them aside for half an hour of so.  You can do dishes, make cookies, teach your child French....

You back?  Good.  Crank up your oven to 400 degrees.  Now wipe the moisture off the eggplant and set up an egg wash/breading system.

Don't look at me like that.   It's easy.

Okay, get two small baking dishes.  Crack and whip a couple eggs into one, pour your panko into the other.  Add a little salt and pepper into your panko.  Don't use regular bread crumbs.  It won't work.  You want Japanese style panko.  They look like flaky grape nuts.  The flakes give a nice crunchy crispiness and hold up to the moisture of the eggplant.  Regular bread crumbs won't.

Okay, take a slice of eggplant, toss it into your egg, flip it over, shake off the excess and toss it into the panko.  Toss panko crumbs over the other side.  You don't need a heavy coating of bread crumbs.  You just need them very lightly dusted with panko.  You want crunch, not a battered eggplant doughnut.

Set your newly dusted eggplant on a baking sheet.  (like it with parchment or use a silpat.  If you don't have a silpat, consider getting one.  It will save you work (in cleaning your pan or prying overcooked cookies off your baking sheet) and money (in parchment).  Continue with the eggplant, egg, panko, baking sheet assembly until your sheet is full.

Put the sheet into the oven.  Let them cook for between 5-10 minutes.  Your panko will brown and your eggplant will be soft and tender.  Go ahead, grab one and eat it...

Yummy right?  It's only the beginning.

Now's the fun part.  While the eggplant are cooking, take your basil out and put it into a huge bowl.  Now fill it with cold water.  Shake out your basil in the water.  Take them out, empty the water (and the newly discovered sand in the bottom of your bowl), rinse the bowl, fill it with water and put the basil in again.  Do this four times.  Nothing worse than biting into gritty sandy basil.

Once your basil is clean, set it aside on a towel.

Cut your fresh mozzarella into small discs the size of the eggplant.

As you take your eggplant out of the oven, put them on a cooling rack.  Let them cool completely.  Except the one's you eat.  Warm, they're terribly yummy.  Kind of what I imagine crack to be like... just plain addictive.

When your eggplant is cool, take a baking dish, like the ones you used for the egg and panko!

Hey, convenient.

Put a spoonful of sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread it out in a thin layer.  Then begin assembling.


Just do three to four layers.  You're building little towers.  They don't have to be too big.  Better to eat two perfect ones than one big leaning, falling over, sloppy, tasty mess.

You can now set these aside until you want to bake them for dinner.  Relax, get your kid into his costume and convince him that the monkey isn't just his friend, he's a costume and it's okay for him to get inside.  Try not to think of The Empire Strikes Back and Luke Skywalker getting into his crazy two legged horse thingy while putting your son into George his friend...  the monkey.
When you decide you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and pop them in for about 10-15 minutes.  Done.

Relish in their simple goodness.  The perfect eggplant parm without having to fry them in oil, without the mess, without the soggy wetness of oil soaked eggplant.  I will say that if you want to drizzle a little good olive oil over it, you can... but you don't need to. 

If you have questions, email me.

Let me know what you think!

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