Friday, 1 June 2012

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

The Eggplant is one of those plants that people quite often have a love/hate relationship with.  Closely related to the potato and tomato, it's fruit is considered a berry of the plant.  With a meaty flesh, the eggplant has seeds that can be bitter due to the fact that  nicotinoid alkaloids can be found inside them, nicotinoid alkaloids, found in nightshade plants is closely related to the tobacco family.

Removing the bitterness from the seeds of the eggplant for cooking can be accomplished easily by heavily salting the slices and allowing them to sit for awhile.  You can also avoid bitterness by choosing an eggplant with fewer seeds by purchasing a male instead of a female which contains the most seeds.

One of the common ways believed for determining between male and female eggplants is by checking the indentation on the bottom of the fruit.  A male will have a round shallow indentation instead of a line or oval type indentation that sits deeper into the fruit. 

Scientists will tell you that the plant is both female and male and is a self pollinator with both sexes in each of their flowers. 

Is gender really a factor in choosing the less seeded fruit?  Is it maturity?  Many young fruits will have less seeds than a mature plant.  An eggplant that is very mature and has lost its glossy purple sheen will usually have many more seeds.

When purchasing or picking your fruit for cooking, whether you believe they are of a different sex or not, there are a few guidelines you can follow to find the best tasting eggplant.  Choose smaller firm fruit with a high purple glossy sheen to them and you'll usually find them to have fewer seeds meaning there's a lesser chance it'll have too many of those bitter seeds.

What's your favorite recipe using eggplant?  I love to make ratatouille, moussaka, curries, sandwiches and eggplant Parmesan.  There are a lot of different ways to make eggplant, you can stuff it, marinade it, pickle it, grill it, roast it, or bake it.  You can make rollatini, lasagna, pizza, relish, caponata, baba ganoush (a dip), hummus, soup...the possibilities are many.

A classic for me is the eggplant Parmesan.  I usually start by making a nice tomato sauce.

Blanch 10 Roma tomatoes, it makes it easier to peel the skin off.   While your tomatoes are blanching.  Dice 1 medium onion and mince 3 cloves of garlic.  Heat a large non stick pot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to heat, toss in onion and let cook until soft.  Add garlic and stir for 2-3 minutes.

Slice tomatoes in half after peeling and chop into small pieces.  Add chopped tomatoes to the onion and garlic mixture and allow to simmer.

Add salt & pepper to taste, oregano and basil.  Pour in 1 large can of crushed tomatoes, use an all natural brand.

 Add 1 small can of tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 fresh bay leaves.  Allow to simmer for 2 hours and adjust seasonings to taste.

While your sauce simmers,  peel your eggplant and slice into 1/2 inch coin shaped slices.  The skin can be thick and its really personal preference on the peeling of it.  If you enjoy the peel, leave it there or peel a few strips off to enjoy the best of both worlds.  The younger the fruit the more tender and delicate the skin will be and the opposite will be true for an older fruit making the skin thicker and more tough.  The skin is more important to keep on when grilling it so that it keeps the integrity of the fruit intact.

Place slices into a colander and salt heavily with kosher or sea salt. 

Let them sit for at least an hour.  The salt will draw out moisture and any bitterness in the seeds, you'll actually be able to see the water bead up on the outside of the slices.

Salting also helps to create a more firm slice as the salt closes up air pockets making it less likely to draw in too much oil during the cooking process. When the hour is up, rinse the slices thoroughly and pat dry with paper towel (the drier the better).

Prepare a bread crumb mixture for dredging the eggplant slices in.

1 cup bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste & chopped fresh parsley...

Place slices of eggplant in an egg wash, pull out and allow any excess to drip off.

Dredge egg coated slices in bread crumb mixture, place a bit of pressure on the slices after coating to help mixture to adhere to the slices.

Heat a non stick skillet on medium heat, add olive oil to coat the bottom of pan and allow it to heat well.  Place slices in pan and leave until one side is a nice golden brown, flip the slice and allow the other side to do the same.  If your pan is hot, and your oil is hot...the eggplant will brown nicely without soaking up the oil making it greasy.

Place eggplant slices in an oven dish, layering if needed.  Place a small amount of sauce on each slice and top with fresh grated mozzarella cheese and fresh grated Parmesan reggiano cheese.

Bake in an oven pre heated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so until heated through and the cheese is melted nicely.

Enjoy : )

Till Next Time, Ciao & Happy Cookin'

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