Susan M. Selasky
Detroit Free Press
A few weeks ago, a co-worker stopped by my desk and asked, “Could you use any eggplants in the Test Kitchen?” She had extra and didn’t want them to go to waste.
Of course, I’d take them. Rarely do I pass up extra ingredients. And I had no problem finding something to make with the globe beauties.
When cooked just right, eggplant has a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth hearty flavor.
I’ve roasted eggplant to make baba ghanoush, a Middle Eastern spread; grilled slices to place on top of pizzas or serve as a layer for a veggie sandwich, and cut slits in the flesh to stuff it with a mix of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh parsley and seasonings.
Eggplant is a fruit, although it’s thought of and treated like a vegetable. It’s a member of the nightshade family — like tomatoes and potatoes. I think eggplant goes unnoticed a lot because people don’t know how to cook it.
With my new stash of eggplant, I opted to try a different take on the traditional eggplant parmigiana.
The basic eggplant parmigiana recipe calls for frying the eggplant slices. That, of course, adds fat and calories. But the real issue is that eggplant is like a sponge and absorbs oil quickly. Often you can end up with an oily mess.
So many recipes suggest salting the eggplant — and weighting it — before frying it. Doing so removes bitterness and rids it of excess moisture so it doesn’t absorb much oil when you fry it.
In How to Peel a Peach, author Perla Meyers addresses the issue. She writes that “the eggplant releases the oil within 15 minutes of cooking, so let the cooked slices drain on a double layer of paper towels for 15 minutes.”
With this recipe, the eggplant slices are not pan-fried, but rather fried in the oven. It’s a neat technique when roasting any kind of vegetables: Drizzle oil on the baking sheet and place in the oven while the oven preheats. The oil gets hot and the vegetables sizzle immediately when you place them on the baking sheet.
There are many varieties, shapes and sizes of eggplant. The large globe or pear-shaped eggplants with green cap-like stems are most common. Baby or Italian eggplants are smaller versions of the globe.
Choose eggplants with a smooth shiny skin that show no signs of deterioration. Store them in a cool dry place or in the refrigerator for longer storage. Try to use eggplant within a few days because as it ages it tends to get bitter.
It’s not necessary to peel eggplant because the skin holds it together during cooking.
To slice eggplant, a serrated knife works best.
EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA MEDALLIONS
2 eggplants (about 1 lb. each), washed
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2½ to 3 cups favorite tomato-based pasta sauce with basil
Fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, optional
6 to 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 12 slices
6 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
¼ cup toasted bread crumbs
To prepare the eggplant: Slice off the stem end and bottom end of the eggplant. Using a serrated knife, slice each eggplant into 6 even slices — about 1½ inches thick. Place the slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle each slice with salt. Let it set 30 minutes. Rinse the slices thoroughly and pat them dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the olive oil on a sided baking sheet and place it in the oven while the oven preheats.
Once the oven is preheated, carefully remove the baking sheet and place the eggplant slices on it.
Return to the oven and bake about 12-15 minutes. Turn the slices over when they are nicely brown, after about 6-8 minutes. Bake the slices until they are just tender, but firm enough to hold their shape. Transfer to a platter. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Arrange 6 of the largest eggplant slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Spread ¼ cup of the sauce over each slice, and, if using, sprinkle with a few shreds of basil. Top with 1 slice of the mozzarella and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons Parmesan. Top with 6 more slices of eggplant and repeat the layering.
Sprinkle toasted bread crumbs over the top.
Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the cheese melts and tops are lightly browned. Serve the eggplant medallions hot, warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings.