Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Parmigiana, yes please. Freshly picked, tender young Japanese Eggplants are the secret to the success of this recipe, particularly if it is being served up to family or guests who aren't devotees of the eggplant. I try to cook them on the same day they are picked from our garden, or if you don't grow them, they will probably be available at a Farmer's Market and should have been harvested that same morning. If they are slightly wrinkled or soft, I don't go near them for this type of dish. I use the less than perfect ones which are still ok, for dips like Baba Ganoush, or Mediterranean baked vegetables. I salted my eggplants after slicing them to let any acrid juices drain out and then rinsed them free of salt, even though with fresh smaller eggplant it isn't essential. The eggplant flavour is subtle, and combines deliciously with the Italian Parmigiana flavours of tomato and mozzarella.
Eggplants self seed easily in our garden, one of the bonuses of an active and healthy compost heap, although Mr. HRK isn't always thrilled to see the plants popping up throughout the garden. We only like to eat the Japanese variety and the eggshaped pure White ones, so they are the ones that we grow. However we only need a few plants, and the rest are pulled out. They grow into quite large bushes here in the tropics, producing an abundance of eggplants.
Who doesn't love Parmigiana or Parmy as it is colloquially called here, whether it is chicken, veal, or vegetable? It is still so often the item on a menu that people are drawn to, but it is so easy to make at home in your own kitchen. This recipe lives up to expectations and is perfect to serve with homemade pasta, bolognaise sauce and a salad for a large group of people. Or just serve it on it's own with a salad and bread, and leftovers heat up brilliantly the following day. A perfect and well balanced meal for a meat free Monday or on the weekend. For my friends reading this who live in the Northern Hemisphere experiencing cooler weather right now, this would be ideal to cook on a rainy afternoon.
1 kg of Japanese eggplant, freshly harvested the same day if possible
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
250g Mozzarella in one or two pieces that can be torn apart
40g finely grated Parmesan, or hard Goat's cheese (I used Parmesan this time)
Tomato Sauce ingredients:
4 x400 g tins of tomatoes
2 finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Himalayan Rock salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
A little sugar for balance
I used a 25x17 cm ceramic baking dish for this recipe.
Making the tomato sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a large, wide pan, I used my Scanpan. Add the onions and garlic and saute gently for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the tins of tomatoes, the thyme and the bay leaf.
Bring the mixture to a high simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes until the tomato mixture has thickened nicely.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and about a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Your tomato sauce is ready for layering. How simple is that?
Preparing the Eggplants:
Preheat your oven to 180 deg. C.
Wash and trim the ends off the eggplants. Slice them lengthwise into 3-5mm thick slices. Place layers of them into a colander or on kitchen paper on a cutting board and sprinkle each layer with salt.The juices will drain out for about an hour. Even 30 minutes will be long enough for young eggplant.
Rinse the eggplant slices and dry them well with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
Heat a large frying pay to a medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the oil to start with. Fry one layer of eggplant until golden on each side, about two minutes each side. You can transfer this layer straight to the base of your ovenproof baking dish. Finish cooking each layer of eggplant and set aside, adding more oil for each layer if necessary.
Cover the bottom layer of eggplant in the baking dish with a third of the tomato sauce. Dot a third of the mozzarella pieces over the sauce, then scatter a thin layer of grated cheese over that.
Repeat with another couple of layers, so that you end up with three layers in your dish.
Bake for 40 minutes, until golden and bubbling.
For serving, I sprinkled mine lightly with some Fennel fronds just because I have them growing, and it's also nice to eat with your eyes.
I assembled this dish the day before because I had a busy day coming up, kept it in the refrigerator overnight, and cooked it up the following day. If you have a glut of eggplant or aubergines, as is often the case with home grown vegetables, this dish can be prepared and assembled and frozen in batches and cooked at a later date for an easy dinner. This is a very economical way to prepare food.
Have a lovely weekend everyone.