Tuesday, July 27, 2010

freshest-ever eggplant parmesan

We are thoroughly enjoying summer's bounty here, plowing through week after week of CSA boxes from Flying Cloud Farm. It's been hot, too - far too hot to turn on the oven, but I did yesterday to try making eggplant parmesan using all produce from our box. We were sweating while we ate it, but it was delicious!

My mother never made eggplant parmesan, but I have an early memory of eating it at a dinner at a neighbor's farm. My parents sold flowers - zinnias, snapdragons, cosmos - at the local farmer's market when I was young, and through that became friends with farmers around our area. Among those farmers were Art and Peggy Gish, peace activists whose farm in hilly southeastern Ohio was open to a variety of transients and visitors, where the only payment for room and board was made through laboring on the farm. The Gish's raised all variety of unusual vegetables, Asian greens and kohlrabi and eggplant. The dinner was vegetarian, served at a large table surrounded by men with long beards and women in skirts and sandals. The eggplant parmesan was, to me, exotic and delicious, unlike anything I'd ever had. In truth, it was not exotic. I know now that the ingredients were chosen simply because they were in season, but at the time I found the entire experience - the food, the people, the communal way in which the meal was prepared and cleaned up after - to be intriguing and beautiful.

I'm not sure this eggplant parmesan lives up to the meal I ate with Art and Peggy all those years ago, but it does follow in their path by using seasonal, local ingredients at their peak of harvest. 

Freshest-Ever Eggplant Parmesan
(adapted from Martha Stewart Food) 

olive oil 
1 egg 
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded parmesan + 2 Tablespoons (I used pecorino romano) 
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil 
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 - 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/2 in rounds 
5 vine-ripe tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced 
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush with olive oil. In a shallow bowl, whisk the egg with 2 Tablespoons water. In another shallow bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup parmesan, oregano, and basil.  Season with salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant in the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumbs to coat. Place on baking sheets, then bake for about 20 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Turn over and back for another 20 minutes, until golden brown. 

Meanwhile, set a medium saucepan of water to boil. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with an x and drop into boiling water for about 30 seconds, until the skin starts to loosen. Drain in a colander and rinse briefly in cold water until cool enough to handle, peel, and core. Over a medium bowl, coarsely chop the peeled tomatoes, retaining all the liquid from the tomatoes. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and saute briefly, until fragrant. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until beginning to thicken. Stir in tomato paste and fresh basil. 

In a square baking dish, spread about 2 cups of sauce. Layer about half the eggplant slices over the sauce, top with more sauce, and sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Repeat layers, ending with mozzarella. Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons parmesan. Bake uncovered for about 15 minutes, until lightly brown and bubbling. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy with an assortment of friends, toasting the season, peacemakers, and the bounty of summer.

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