scout + wolf pop-up recipe: sweet summer eggplant parmesan

by - 12:00

To say that I like Italian cooking would be a gross understatement. To say that I love Italian, we're getting somewhere. Being married to a half-Italian man is both awesome (the food! the passion! the family!) and incredibly intimidating (the food! the passion! the family!). Having met him (along with at least thirty of his relatives) for the first time at his family's annual traditional "Italian Night" feast, I had a feeling that I'd fall in love with him and all he came with, secret recipes and all. 

Although I love to cook and experiment with ingredients that are otherwise foreign to me and my kitchen origins, I had my work cut out for me. I had meatballs to live up to, lasagna to perfect, and sauce to master. The truth is, though, admittedly, it's very hard for me to adhere to a recipe word for word. I can be exacting, but when it comes to food, I believe in trial by fire (quite literally). Needless to say, my "versions" of family recipes are always just slightly ...different. ;-)

I decided to make eggplant parmesan the other day. It was a Monday and while it doesn't always work out this way, I have been trying to make "Meatless Mondays" a thing in our household. Why not? It can't hurt to cut out meat (at least) once a week. I started looking through my cookbooks and scouring Pinterest boards. It's the middle of August and we are in prime tomato season. Forget canned tomatoes! I wanted a sauce recipe using fresh ones! And then I found it: Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce.

A little bit about Hazan: from what I've gathered, she's basically the Julia Child of Italian cooking. She wrote a book called The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that is just as ubiquitous as Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Interestingly, despite having no kitchen background, she made it a mission of hers to learn how to cook for her new husband shortly after they married. In her years, she taught cooking classes from their small New York apartment kitchen and eventually wrote books. The rest, as they say, is history.

So what makes this sauce so special? It has four ingredients. FOUR. Tomatoes, one onion, butter (you guys, butter), and salt. That's it. Huh? Where's the garlic? Where's the basil? Where's the whatever-else-you-want-to-put-in-your-sauce to make it sauce? I had to take everything I had ever learned or read about making sauce and shove it in a drawer, to be opened at a later date. I was determined to try Hazan's sauce but just as I mentioned earlier, I couldn't help but divert from the original recipe. Instead of using canned tomatoes, I opted for the beautiful fresh yellow and red ones I had sitting on the counter just waiting for their opportunity to shine.

I blanched them, peeled them and got to work. If you could've smelled my house! This sauce is ridiculous, a startling burst of sweet and savory that just lingers on your palate long enough for you to keep "tasting" directly from the pot.

Assembling eggplant parmesan is easy, albeit a little time consuming. While eggplant lends itself to being a great summer vegetable, it does have that unique bitter bite to it. A useful tip I learned over the years to minimize it is to salt it after it's been sliced and to let it sit in a colander for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, I pat them dry and dunk them in an egg wash before dredging them in a mixture of panko, freshly grated parmesan, dried oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Instead of frying the eggplant, I bake it in an oven at 400°F for 20-25 minutes on each side, or until your eggplant slices turn into beautiful golden disks. Then, layer and bake. Serve with a little bit of pasta, a light salad and a nice glass of red.

Dinner done.

Sweet Summer Eggplant Parmesan
serves 4

1 large eggplant, thinly sliced to 1/4" thickness
2 eggs
1 tbsp water
1 cup panko/breadcrumbs
1 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into six rounds
1 tsp dried oregano
fresh basil and parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

The Sauce (adapted from Marcella Hazan)
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled
5 tbsp butter
1 onion, halved

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Slice the eggplant and liberally salt while setting aside in a colander for 30 minutes.

While the eggplant is doing its thing, coarsely chop your blanched and peeled tomatoes. Throw in a pot with the butter (almost an entire stick, folks!) and onion. Bring to a boil and then turn it down to a lower simmer for about 45 minutes or so. Keep stirring to break up larger tomato chunks and add salt to taste. Set aside when done.

Make an egg wash of eggs and water in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, add panko / breadcrumbs, and parmesan along with oregano, salt and pepper. Start your assembly line of dunking eggplant in egg wash and dredging in breadcrumb mixture. 

Once all your eggplant slices are coated, bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, flip them over, and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until golden. Set aside and raise oven temperature to 400°F.

Finally, build your meal! Spoon a layer of sauce at the bottom of a baking dish. Add eggplant slices and sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top. Keep layering: sauce, eggplant, cheese. Repeat until ingredients are used up. Top your eggplant parmesan with slices of fresh mozzarella and any of the remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until your top layer is browned and bubbling. Top with fresh basil and parsley. Let stand for five minutes before digging in.

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