Tag Archives: eggplant parm

The eggplant that saved Christmas

19 Dec

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Christmas Eve is spent with my extended family in New York, but Christmas Day is for my wife Joan’s outside of Boston. Only three of us are in attendance, and so we’re talking about a much, much quieter affair.

Two Christmases ago my mother-in-law Gin shocked us by announcing that Christmas dinner would be supplied not by her but by a nearby Chinese restaurant known as Su Chang’s. I was informed of this well before the Christmas-morning drive from New York to Massachusetts, allowing ample time to brood over so enormous a break in holiday protocol.

Never had I eaten a Christmas dinner that wasn’t prepared by someone I loved and who loved me. Ms. Chang, if such a person exists, could not possibly be included in this group.

At around 4 pm Gin asked me to call over to the restaurant and place our order. The line, however, was busy. Very busy.

One hundred seventy redials on multiple phones and several other attempts at reaching the restaurant later it became apparent that Ms. Chang would not be providing our Christmas dinner after all. 

“I don’t think this is gonna work,” I announced finally, aware that Gin’s infrequently used kitchen housed none of the provisions required to prepare a meal, let alone one suited to a holiday.

The three of us just sat there in silence.

After a few uncomfortable moments I went to the kitchen and had a look around. There was milk, butter, a few other odds and ends in the fridge; the cupboards were pretty much bare. Alone in a small clay bowl next to a pristine toaster oven were three garlic cloves.

That’s when it hit me.

“I can make an aglio e olio,” I announced. “There’s plenty of pasta out in the car.”

There was indeed. No visit to New York at Christmastime (or most any other time, for that matter) does not include a food run to D. Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn, and so the trunk of our car was overflowing with staples of all types. These included (but by no means were limited to) dried pastas, some lovely anchovies, and several tins of fine olive oils, all that was necessary to make an aglio e olio.

Not exactly a Christmas feast, I know.

“Well, actually,” I heard my wife say, to my ear rather tentatively. “Hm, I wonder…”

I poked my head out from the kitchen.

“You wonder what?”

She smiled.

“We’ve got Anna’s Christmas gifts in the freezer, remember?”

And out of nowhere a peaceful calm came to me. Someone that I love very dearly, and who loves me, would be providing this holiday’s meal after all.

Christmas had been saved!

Inside Gin’s freezer, you see, were the Christmas presents Aunt Anna had given to us only the night before. One was a whole stuffed chicken that she had stewed in tomato sauce, the other a tray of her fantabulous eggplant parm.

“I’m tired of running around trying to buy you two presents,” Anna sighed, fetching the unwrapped gifts from her freezer. “So I decided to give you what i know you really like.”

Both the chicken and the eggplant were frozen when Anna gave them to us, and our intention was to keep them that way until we were ready to devour them. Gin’s freezer was merely a place to store the gifts before returning home to Maine the following day.

However, and as they say, desperate times…

“I’ll run out to the car and get what I need for the pasta,” I said putting on my hat and coat. “You guys can decide what else you want to eat.”

My money was on them choosing the stuffed chicken but when I returned the bird was still cooped up in the Frigidaire. Anna’s eggplant parm was in the microwave defrosting.

I have never known my aunt’s eggplant to garner tepid reviews and this time was no different. Gin liked it quite a lot; she even kept the leftovers. Dammit!

Still, she was far more amused by the eggplant’s mere presence in her freezer—and on her dinner table.

“We’re eating Christmas dinner from the trunk of a car,” she laughed. And laughed. And then laughed some more.

After we’d finished eating I called Anna to tell her what had happened and to thank her for saving our holiday. As is so often the case our conversation was brief but very much to the point.

“You’re not supposed to eat Chinese on Christmas anyway,” she scolded me. “What’s wrong with you? Sei pazzo?

“I love you too, Anna,” I told my aunt before the line went dead and she was gone.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Old school eggplant parm

10 Jun

This is the eggplant parmigiana that I was born to make. It is a proper, traditional, and very good eggplant parm.

It just isn’t mine.

For reasons that I cannot quite explain, my method has long been to roast the eggplant, not to bread and fry it the way you are supposed to. (Here’s my roasted recipe if, like me, you are moved to travel a different path).

I don’t know what caused me to break from the elders in this matter. It’s painful. We don’t talk about. So please don’t ask. Let’s just get to the recipe, shall we.

To prepare an old school version of “the parm” you will of course need a large, firm eggplant. But having a close relation who has been around long enough to have attended the old school is even more useful. I’ve got Aunt Anna in my life, and she happens to enjoy cooking for me. Her simple eggplant parm is the best that I know, and so that is the recipe we will be going with here.

The eggplant is skinned and cut into quarter-inch-thick slices, which are dredged in plain breadcrumbs.

This is the (as yet unmixed) egg wash that follows the breading stage. (The cheese and lots of fresh parsley are key to this parm’s perfection, I’m pretty sure.)

Dip the breaded slices in the mixed egg wash and into the hot olive oil they go.

Let the golden slices rest on paper towels to drain some of the oil.

Dip the slices in marinara sauce, line them in a baking dish, add a little mozzarella on top of each slice, then repeat the layers until you’re out of eggplant.

Top the whole thing off with some more sauce and into the oven it goes.

I don’t like my eggplant parm hot out of the oven. I like it at room temperature, and so that is how I enjoyed this one with my aunt.

It’s better that way.

If you don’t believe me, ask her.

Anna’s Eggplant Parmigiana
Recipe

1 large eggplant, skinned and cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slices
Breadcrumbs for dredging
Olive oil for frying

1/2 lb. mozzarella, cut in thin slices
16 oz. marinara sauce of your choosing

For the egg wash
5 extra large eggs
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp. grated Romano cheese
Drop of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a bowl mix together the eggs, parsley, cheese, salt, pepper and water.
Dredge each eggplant slice in breadcrumbs, then in the egg wash.
Fry the eggplant in the olive oil until golden brown on both sides, then remove to paper towels.
Dip slices one at a time in marinara sauce and arrange in a baking dish until the bottom is covered.
Add a layer of cheese atop the slices, then repeat the layers until the eggplant and the cheese are used up.
Bake 30-45 minutes, allow to cool a bit, and serve.