Tag Archives: eggplant

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!

Aunt Anna’s stuffed eggplant

8 Jul

Sometimes a little misunderstanding can be a good thing.

Take these stuffed eggplant. They were quietly simmering on my Aunt Anna’s stovetop in Queens the other day, waiting for me to arrive in town for the long holiday weekend.

I just didn’t know about it.

“You’re coming over, right?” Anna had said when I’d called from the road to check in. “I cooked.”

“You cooked?” I asked judiciously, cueing up to pay the toll on the Mass Pike. “I thought we were taking you out to eat.”

This was not the first time my mother’s sister and I had miscommunicated. (Hint: One of us needs to invest in a hearing aid. I’ll be a gentleman and refrain from stating publicly which one.)

“You want to take me out,” Anna said, a bit testily I thought. “What for? I just told you that I cooked. Can’t you hear?”

With age I have learned that sparring with my dear aunt, however amusing, usually proves fruitless. Besides, I’d pick her cooking over most restaurant chefs’ any day.

“What time do you want us over?” I asked. “And what can we bring?”

“You come when you come,” Anna told me, ignoring my offer to contribute to the meal. “We’re here.”

I estimated an arrival time at her apartment, which she and Aunt Rita share, then said goodbye to my aunt. However, before I could hang up the cell she was back.

“I made eggplant,” Anna blurted out. “You might not like it, though.”

The toll collector handed back change for a five (No, I do not have an E-ZPass, what’s it to you!) and I rolled up the window and moved on.

“Why won’t I like it, Anna?”

Silence.

“Anna? The eggplant. Why won’t I like it?”

“I didn’t say you won’t like it, I said you might not like it. Maybe you will. How should I know? I have to go.”

These are the stuffed eggplant and the fusilli that my aunt served to My Associate and me, and Aunt Rita and cousin Joan that evening.

And this is the first of three — count ’em, three — plates that I plowed through.

Anna is a gifted cook in so many ways, but her eggplant dishes set her apart from anybody I have ever known. These stuffed eggplant, cooked in a simple marinara sauce, were light as air and damned near as good as her  Old School Eggplant Parm. Which is really saying something.

Whatever gave my aunt the idea that I might not enjoy this dish will have to remain a mystery. Because no matter how many times I asked her to explain herself that evening, all she ever said was, “Shut up and eat.”

Which I did. Happily.

Anna’s Stuffed Eggplant
Recipe

Note from Anna: “Yeah, I know. There are no measurements here. Just eyeball everything, okay. It’s very hard to screw up a dish as simple as this. Even my nephew can do it.”

Whole eggplant
Eggs
Grated Romano cheese
Breadcrumbs
Parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, remove pulp and dice (do not remove the skin)
Saute the pulp in olive oil until soft
In a bowl, beat eggs and then add the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper
Add the cooked diced eggplant to the egg mix, then add enough breadcrumbs until mixture holds together (do not allow the mix to become overly dry)
Scoop mixture into the eggplant halves
In a frying pan heat olive oil then place eggplant halves skin side down and cook for around 3 minutes; gently flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time
Place the eggplant in a pot of tomato sauce and cook at a gentle simmer for around 45 minutes

Grilled eggplant caponata

26 May

It being a holiday weekend I’m figuring the outdoor grills are getting a good workout. This may not look like something that can cook next to the burgers and the sausages but just be patient, all right.

What you do is throw some whole eggplant on the grill, along with a cut red onion and a head of garlic wrapped in foil.

When the eggplant is cooked through peel off the skin, shred the flesh and put it in a colander to allow the moisture to run out (weight it with something heavy and it’ll dry out faster). Then chop the onion and remove the cooked garlic flesh from the skins.

Saute some celery and pine nuts in olive oil for a couple minutes, then quickly add a chopped tomato and some drained capers for another minute (not shown). In a bowl add the contents of the pan to the eggplant, onion and garlic, toss with some extra virgin olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Not exactly a traditional Memorial Day snack, but it works just fine. For me.

Have a good holiday everybody!

Eggplant in olive oil

9 Apr

Get a good look at this stuff, okay. Because it ain’t gonna be around for very long.

No matter how many jars of pickled eggplant that I make, I’m always in the planning stages for the next batch. It’s my go-to sandwich condiment. Has been since, well, I can’t actually remember when it wasn’t. And don’t ask how many loaves of crusty bread I’m plowed through with nothing but this stuff on top.

Oh yeah, and it’s a snap to make. So let’s get going on that, shall we.

Peel and quarter the eggplant, then cut it into half-inch strips. (My advice is to use at least three or four large specimens, as there’s a lot of shrinkage—and the finished product usually goes pretty fast.)

Place in a colander and liberally toss with salt.

Weight the strips down as best you can. The idea here is to extract as much moisture from the eggplant as you can (make sure there’s something under the colander to catch the liquid). I usually let this go for a couple hours and frequently toss things around and manually press down on the strips during that time.

These strips are in good enough shape to work with.

Place the eggplant strips in a bowl, cover in distilled white vinegar, then place in the fridge for several hours. (I usually let them soak overnight.)

Drain the vinegar and then, using your hands, squeeze the eggplant strips as dry as you can.

Place in a jar, add a couple chopped cloves of garlic and some crushed hot pepper.

Then cover in extra virgin olive oil.

I’ll usually wait a week before eating the eggplant but three or four days should be enough time to allow the flavors to develop. And it’ll keep in the fridge for a long time.

If it lasts that long.

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.

Roasted eggplant parm

11 Jan

WE’RE NOW ON FACEBOOK. Please see box at right.

I grew up in a place where eggplant was breaded and fried.
And it was good.
But while preparing an eggplant parmigiana for some house guests over the holidays, I did not crack an egg or touch a single crumb of bread.
This was also good.
Behold, the best roasted eggplant parm I have ever made. (With apologies to certain members of la famiglia; you know who you are.)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the eggplant (or not; I go both ways on this) and cut slices that are at least 1/4-inch thick (I go thicker than that even). Then it’s onto a baking sheet with a good dose of Kosher salt, ground black pepper and olive oil.
Roast until nicely browned. (I flipped the slices once so that both sides could char a bit.)
Make a simple sauce. This one’s got olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, a couple anchovy fillets (yes, anchovies), a handful of basil and some San Marzanos. And it only cooked for about half an hour.
Layer it all up, with fresh mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake in the oven at 375 F for around 45 minutes and that’s that.
I like my eggplant parm at room temperature, so it always sits quite a bit before I’ll dig in.
On this particular occasion, a couple of house guests tried to stage a premature and completely unauthorized taste while it was still hot. These efforts, I’m happy to report, were thwarted.
As for the guests, let’s just say they won’t be trying that again anytime soon. Capeesh?