Eggplant, that beautiful egg-shaped, purple and glossy fruit we order in a restaurant under the name of Eggplant Parmesan, so often comes to us overcooked, bitter and lackluster for want of proper preparation, we are sorry we had not ordered a different entrée.
Now that our days and nights are warmer, the time is ‘ripe’ for planting this hot weather-loving plant. If I were growing eggplant, it would be the Japanese variety
that is slenderer, firmer, has fewer seeds and thinner skin, all of which result in less bitterness. Flesh from this variety is creamier and holds its integrity when baked.
Chinese eggplant is the one found in most of our markets. Shaped much like a pear, this should be firm, glossy and have a fresh green stem. If the stem is brown and dried out, the eggplant will be bitter and spongy.
Eggplant, also known as Aubergine, is 95% water, and when overripe or held for more than a few days in cool, dry storage, they become bitter and spongy. Never store this fruit in the refrigerator. Because of the availability of this beautiful fruit here in Santa Cruz County being directly from the grower’s field, I prefer to buy mine from the local farmer’s market.
When buying the eggplant, choose an unblemished, firm and heavy one, and it’s seeds will be smaller and less bitter. Discolored skin or bruising indicates damaged flesh on the inside and will not keep well. Being from the nightshade family and if one is allergic to peppers, you may choose to avoid eggplant.
To avoid any bitterness, I begin by salting each slice of eggplant on each side and placing them on a rack for an hour, turning them halfway through the time. This method allows the salt to draw out the water. I then rinse each slice under cold water and place them on a cookie sheet between three layers of paper towels. I place another cookie sheet on top with a heavyweight to absorb the excess water.
When eggplant slices are fried, their spongy texture absorbs a surprising amount of oil. Because of this, I bake, rather than fry the eggplant.
I have cooked eggplant parmesan for many years, and never been disappointed in the following method and recipe, nor have I made any changes. My children would not allow it. Read the recipe carefully prior to cooking.
Eggplant Parmesan (serves 4 as a main course)
One eggplant sliced ½ in. and salted on both sides. Set on rack over a cookie sheet to drain for a half-hour. Turn over slices and let drain a half-hour.
Rinse slices in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place eggplant slices between three layers of paper towel and weigh down with a heavy pan. I use another cookie sheet with a bowl of water on top.
Leave for one hour.
- 1 cup grated dried onion
- 4 crushed cloves of garlic
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Saute’ in a large, enameled pot until onions are translucent, but not browned. Then add:
- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 3 cups of chicken or beef stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes OR 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1/3 cup good red wine
Simmer on low for 1 hour. Keep sauce hot for assembly.
In a shallow bowl mix together and set aside:
- 2/3 cup Panko
- 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- ½ tsp. black pepper
In a shallow bowl whip together and set aside:
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. water
Preheat the oven 375 degrees.
Prepare a cookie sheet with an oiled sheet of parchment paper.
Dip both sides of eggplant slices, first in egg mixture then in Panko mixture. Place on parchment paper.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time.
Keep your eye on baking time to make sure the slices are nicely browned and crisp.
- 2 cups shredded cheese … I use Monterey Jack, mild cheddar and Mozzarella.
- 1 Tbsp. diced fresh Basil.
In an oiled casserole dish, pour ½ cup of sauce on the bottom. Then add one layer of eggplant slices, ½ of sauce, then one half of cheese mixture, and sprinkle 1 tbsp. of basil on top.
Then add eggplant, sauce, basil and finally remaining cheese on top. Bake covered for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Do not overbake. Oh so good with French bread and Chianti wine.
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].