Eggplant Parmesan

I love cooking. I really do.

I know for some people it's a means to an end (that end being a full belly). But for me, just the process of transforming simple ingredients into a tasty meal is enjoyable.

The problem is, when life gets busy (and when I'm not home for dinner most evenings), I don't have any time to cook. Or any energy to do so (and energy is often required, because I like to try complicated dishes or recipes I've never tackled before).

Last Sunday, however, I decided to put all things homework, freelancing, and cleaning on hold for a bit to make Eggplant Parmesan—for lunch, no less (I couldn't let my cooking interfere with Conservative Family Dinner, of course).

The main reason I went to such lengths for a meal that's usually overlooked on the weekends: my one and only eggplant was crying out for attention.

You see, I planted an eggplant over in garden number two. And shortly after it went into the ground, a storm came along and somehow lopped off the top of said plant. I figured it was a loss and wouldn't grow a thing, but somehow it managed to recover enough to produce one nice little eggplant.

And so, armed with my trusty Italian cookbook, I set out to make a small dish of Eggplant Parm.

It was awesome. Seriously. It was really, really good. Conservative Boy even ate some leftovers and liked it—even though (gasp!) it didn't contain any meat.

In case you don't believe me, here's the recipe so you can try it yourself (thanks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking).

Eggplant Parmesan
3 pounds eggplant
Vegetable oil
Flour spread on a plate
2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, well drained and chopped coarse
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound mozzarella (preferably buffalo-milk)
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
An oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 inches by 7 inches
Butter for smearing and dotting the dish
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Slice the eggplant and steep it in salt.

(To steep, stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle with salt. Stand another layer of slices against it, sprinkle it with salt, and repeat until you have salted all the eggplant. Place a deep dish under the colander to collect the drippings, and let the eggplant steep under salt for 30 minutes or more. Before cooking, pat each slice thoroughly with paper towels.)

2. Pour about 1 1/2 inches oil in a large frying pan and turn the heat up to high. Dredge the dried eggplant slices in flour, coating them on both sides. Fry the eggplant, cooking it to a golden brown on one side, then turning and frying the other side. (Do not turn more than once.) Remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack or plate lined with paper towels to drain.

3. Put the tomatoes and olive oil in another skillet, turn the heat on medium-high, add salt, stir, and cook the tomato down until it is reduced by half.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5. Cut mozzarella into the thinnest possible slices. Wash the basil, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.

6. Smear the bottom and sides of a baking dish with butter. Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish in a single layer, spread some of the cooked tomato over them, cover with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan, distribute a few pieces of basil over it, and top with another layer of fried eggplant. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and place the dish in the upper third of a preheated oven.

7. Check the dish after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes. Press down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon and draw off any excess liquid you may find. Cook for another 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.

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