It’s September. I don’t care what the calendar says. I don’t care what conventional wisdom or the Farmer’s Almanac says. When kids go back to school, the end of summer is at hand. Fall, as a result, is just around the corner. When I think of fall, I think of veggies. Summer makes me think of fruit. But fall, fall is reserved for cool veggies that are ripe when summer is late and fall is early. Below are two recipes. One for a Eggplant Parmigiana. The other for Eggplant Caponata. Both are Italian dishes. I dunno why, I dunno how and I don’t care, but the Italians can cook the hell out of those weird looking purple vegetables. Seriously, yum.
The best Eggplant Parmigiana I’ve ever eaten was at a little bistro in Rome. It wasn’t deep-fat fried. It wasn’t heavily breaded. It showcased the eggplant, fresh marinara and even fresher mozzarella. Simple. And really frickin’ fabulous. Two of my girlfriend’s and I stayed in Rome for a week, checking out various eateries. We found this little place near the Borghese Gardens and even nearer to the Spanish steps. It was the only cafe we went back to again and again during our stay. We couldn’t get enough of their eggplant parmigiana. Sadly, when one of those two girlfriends went back to Rome at a later date, the little cafe was out of business. We should all observe a moment of silence for this sad fact. In any event, I hope you enjoy the following recipe.
The next recipe I’m going to share is for Eggplant Caponata. The best I’ve tasted is at a little restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska called Villa Nova. If you’re ever there, go. Get the Caponata for an appetizer and the Tournados Gorgonzola as your main dish. The Tournados aren’t always on the menu, but they’ll make it for you anyway if you just ask. Caponata is typically a Silician dish. And on toasted bread rounds or even toasted bread points, it rocks. Like seriously ROCKS. Most places don’t add the extra pine nuts and feta. But the feta makes this dish. It complements the other flavors- sweet & sour, in the Caponata to perfection. I make a huge batch and freeze it so I can always pull out more for later. Sometimes- shhhh, don’t tell anybody- I just eat it by the spoonful. Enjoy!
~Tip: roast a huge batch of eggplant so that you have enough for both recipes. Eggplant roasting time for the Caponata is longer, but since you are probably going to cook the eggplant for the Parmigiana in batches, the extra time shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a time saver, y’all~
– mostly Roman Style
~ you can skip a lot of steps by buying high quality marinara in a jar instead of making yours fresh. Not as good, but saves time.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
- 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled, whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved
- Salt and pepper
- 3 large eggplant
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves, sliced
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/8-inch thick (to kick it up a notch find buffalo mozzarella)
- 1/2 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted under a broiler or in a skillet (optional)
- Start by making the tomato sauce. In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion (and a pinch of salt) and cook for a few minutes until it softens; then add the garlic and wait for both to turn a light golden brown.
- Add the thyme and carrot and cook five minutes more; then add the tomatoes and juice, a pinch of salt, bring to a boil–stirring often–and then lower to a simmer. Cook like this for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce looks thick and tastes terrific (adjust with more salt, as necessary). Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Oil a baking sheet with olive oil.
- Slice each eggplant into 6 pieces about 1 to 1/2-inches thick; place as many slices as you can on to the baking sheet (you’ll have to do this in batches), drizzle them with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop into the hot oven and bake until they’re deep brown on top, about 15 minutes. Remove the eggplant slices to a plate to cool and roast the remaining eggplant.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. In a large baking pan, begin your layering. Start with the largest pieces of eggplant on the bottom, then a layer of tomato sauce, basil (if using), one slice of mozzarella for each eggplant slice, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Top with a layer of smaller eggplant slices, more sauce, more basil, more mozzarella and more Parmesan. If you have more eggplant and cheese to work with, you can do another layer, but I stopped here. Finish by topping the whole baking pan with the breadcrumbs. ~ to make this more like the one I ate in Rome, leave off the breadcrumbs and add a little more cheese.
- Place in the oven and bake until golden on top and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve it up hot!
*1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds)
*Good olive oil
*4 ounces jarred roasted red peppers, chopped
*1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and chopped
*1 cup chopped yellow onion
*1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
*1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
*3 tablespoons minced parsley
*2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
*2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
*2 tablespoons drained capers
*2 tablespoons tomato paste
*1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (for variety try a balsamic vinegar)
*2 teaspoons kosher salt
*1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
*1/4 cup fresh feta- Greek or French
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
2. Place the whole eggplant on the pan, prick with a fork in several places, and rub with olive oil. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool. Halve the eggplant, peel, and discard the skin. Place the eggplant, peppers, and olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Pour into a mixing bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, and add to the eggplant mixture. Add the parsley, pine nuts, lemon juice, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper and mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop. Taste for seasonings and serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles.
4. Sprinkle with fresh Greek or French whole milk feta and extra pine nuts.