In a few short days my kitchen will be packed up and the bare bones of a fifties style cook space will, for once and all, be torn down. My feelings are mixed, as the prospect of five weeks without a place to heat my skillet and store a day’s worth of groceries is like being in no man’s land. Sure, there is the inevitable option of eating out, which after a few days will excite me about as much as packing up a cabinet full of dishes. The kitchen in our house is more than just the place where food goes. It is like Dupont Circle, here in DC. Everyone seems to flow into it and congregate. It’s the center of the house and where all the action happens.
The saving grace is that I have had full use of it through the glory days of summer produce, and there is no hesitation when I say I have made the most of it. My summer eggplant parmigiana is a case in point. It was easily made once a week, around when eggplant started appearing at the farmer’s market. And I say easily because instead of the tedious process of breading and frying each individual slice, the black beauties were roasted at high heat with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. Now breaded and fried eggplant is often delicious enough to merit the extra time, but when it is fresh from the garden and lacking any unwanted bitterness, the sweet flavor comes through more when it is left as simple as possible. Garden fresh eggplant cooks up in no time, too, with its spongy flesh turning soft and buttery under a glaze of olive oil. Summer is indeed the time to reconsider this night shade in your cooking if you were turned off by past experiences with bitter, rubbery, out-of-season versions.
With a batch of garlicky, Sicilian tomato sauce on hand, fresh basil, mozzarella and Parmigiana Reggiano the rest of the recipe is just a matter of assembly. I usually roast the eggplant earlier in the day, and save the layering for right before it gets flashed in the oven. After about half an hour of high heat cooking, the dish emerges browned and bubbling. I usually make plenty of garlic bread to go alongside. Otherwise, how would you mop up all that extra sauce?
Garden Eggplant Parmigiana Recipe:
4 medium size eggplants (purple, white or graffiti)
3 C Sicilian tomato sauce
1 bunch fresh basil
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
1/2 C freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano
salt and black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Prepare two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Trim the very top and bottom off the eggplant then slice each into 1/2 inch slices. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant with olive oil just to coat, then lay the slices on the sheet pan so that they are flat and not overlapping. Roast the eggplant for 30 minutes, flipping them half way, or until they are golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oven and season with salt and pepper.
Grease the bottom of an 8×13 casserole dish. Spoon two tablespoons of tomato sauce in the bottom then lay a single layer of eggplant slices over top. Top the eggplant with enough tomato sauce to cover, a few torn basil leaves, a sprinkling of Parmigiana Reggiano and a dash of red pepper flakes. Repeat with the remaining eggplant until you have several layers, then add slices of the fresh mozzarella to the very top. Lower the oven to 400 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and browned on top. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.