NORTH TONAWANDA —
For a man whose idea of “cooking” normally entails a few pushes of the microwave buttons, tackling eggplant Parmesan was quite a switch.
But we came into some eggplant in Casa de Lane, so I decided to make some for my wife (I abhor it) and guest star in this column to share my experience.
I have to say, it was pretty darn fun. Even as I shredded cheese and chopped mushrooms, it didn’t entirely seem like work. What a pleasant surprise.
I had never touched raw eggplant. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect the spongy, soft, cool flesh the produce provided. And it almost smelled ... appealing (a quick sample proved my nose wrong, however).
Cutting it lengthwise (I didn’t learn until later that eggplant is usually cut widthwise), I got about eight pieces out of the eggplant. Having already beaten the eggs and oiled the skillet, I dipped, coated and fried with a great deal of panache.
Or, at least, I managed to spill egg on only half of the floor.
I was unsure of how long to fry the eggplant, and the final result showed that: The first batch was a bit underdone, while I overbrowned the second batch. Neither batch was inedible, though, so on I went.
The recipe originally called for only mozzarella cheese, but my wife loves Parmesan, so I added that into the mix (I didn’t measure it; I put on just enough to cover the first layer of eggplant). After adding the second eggplant layer, I topped the dish with more sauce and put it into the oven.
We love garlic bread in our house, so I got some ready for broiling. I had shredded enough mozzarella to top half of the bread (more Parmesan went atop the other half), while a tomato surplus in our vegetable bin allowed me to get creative and top half of the slices with tomato.
Since the eggplant commanded the top rack in the oven, I put the bread on the lower rack and allowed the bread to heat until the eggplant was done. I also decided to make some spaghetti to accompany my wife’s meal (and for me to eat as a main course).
Maintaining three dishes that are simultaneously cooking requires your full attention, but it’s by no means beyond your skill set. Our daughter even tested that theory by waking up just as the bread was put into the oven, creating an anxious race against the clock (she fell back asleep just as the bread got golden brown).
After the called-for 15 minutes, I removed the tin foil from the eggplant and added a layer of both cheeses. From there, it was a 10-minute wait (and extensive kitchen cleanup) for the meal’s completion.
And the result?
My wife has a culinary tell: When she really enjoys her food, she unconsciously says “mmm” after savoring the first bite. Once I got my satisfied exclamation from her, I knew that it was a success.
Sign No. 2? She has already asked me to make it again.
And I will be happy to at some point. Not that eggplant Parmesan is all that challenging, compared to many other dishes, but it was still the biggest test my culinary skills have ever faced.
Have fun, conquer a new challenge and please my wife all in one? You can’t ask for a better evening. And you can’t get those kind of results with your microwave.
1 large eggplant
10-12 medium sized mushrooms, sliced
Jar of pasta sauce
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
Italian bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese (enough to cover four pieces of eggplant)
Slice the eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Throw away both ends of eggplant. Beat the eggs together in a flat bowl). Use another bowl (and fill about 1/4 inch with bread crumbs.
Cover a slice of the eggplant, one at a time, with the egg and let excess drip off. Then lay the slice in the bread crumbs, covering both sides. Repeat this process, adding more bread crumbs as needed.
Add oil to a medium fry pan, but just enough to coat the bottom. Brown each slice.. Add oil as necessary. Transfer slices to a paper towel.
Once all are browned, place a layer in the bottom of a rectangular casserole dish. Top with half of a jar of sauce. Add the sliced mushrooms, a couple handfuls of mozzarella and a thin layer of Parmesan. Add another layer of eggplant and the rest of the sauce. Cover with foil and put in a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes. Add another couple handfuls of both types of cheese and bake uncovered about 10 minutes.