Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dinner from the Market....Eggplant Parmigiana

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Spring is a great time to visit your local farmers markets, whether you live in New York, Miami or California. Just last week, I went to a new one in Miami's Design District, but every Saturday and Sunday there are markets all over the country with fresh and organic fruits and vegetables. You learn a lot when you go to the people love to talk about things they grow. Last week, they had 5 varieties of eggplants, amongst them Sicilian, which I had never cooked or tasted. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! It tasted wonderful and very different from the regular Italian variety we are all used to. More aristocratic, shall we say, and much softer. Whether you buy Sicilian, Italian,or Grafitti, take advantage of the wide selection you find at your local farmers markets and try some new varieties of your favorite vegetables. You will be pleasantly surprised. I made the following recipe with Sicilian eggplants and it tasted quite different, and much better, than the one I usually make. It's an adaptation of Mario Batali's recipe, Parmigiana di Melanzane.

Prep time: 45 min (if you have to make the sauce) Cook 25 min

Serves 4

2 pounds (about 2 medium-sized) eggplant
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, seasoned with 1/4 chopped fresh basil leaves and 1/4 cup pecorino
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
1 pound ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash and towel dry the eggplant. Slice the eggplant horizontally about 1/4-inch thick. Place the slices in a large colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside to rest about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse the eggplant and dry on towels.

In a saute pan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil until just smoking. Press the drained eggplant pieces into the seasoned bread crumb mixture and saute until light golden brown on both sides. Repeat with all of the pieces. On a cookie sheet lay out the 4 largest pieces of eggplant. Place 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce over each piece and place a thin slice of mozzarella on top of each. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and top each with the next smallest piece of eggplant, then sauce then mozzarella. Repeat the layering process until all the ingredients have been used, finishing again with the Parmigiano. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top of each little stack is golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

I had tomato sauce in the freezer, which I defrosted in the microwave, and used in this recipe. I made dinner in no time. That is why I recommend keeping some frozen for quick meals like these. If not, you will find it below:

Basic Tomato Sauce:

1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic peeled
1 box Pomi Crushed tomatoes(or one 35 oz San Marzano tomatoes seeded and lightly crushed, with their liquid

1/2 tsp. sugar
Crushed hot red pepper (go easy! unless you like it hot)
10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Heat the oil in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. Whack the garlic with the flat side of a knife, add it to the oil, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Carefully slide the tomatoes and their liquid into the oil. Bring to a boil and season lightly with the salt, sugar and red pepper. Lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer and cook, breaking the tomatoes with a whisk or a spoon (if you got the can of whole tomatoes) until the sauce is chunky and thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in the basil* about 5 minutes before the sauce is finished. Taste the sauce and season with salt and red pepper, if necessary. Set aside

This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

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