Thursday, April 29, 2010

ITALIAN JOB

The only way to learn a cook's kitchen secrets is to linger in the background, helping if they'll let you. But don't rely on memory - I've lost many a great recipe. Thankfully, the recipe below for Jackie's Eggplant Parmigiana was faithfully stored in my journal. It made its Australian debut last night.

During a tour of the US east coast with a previous boyfriend we stayed with his Italian American family in Connecticut and North Carolina. I made it my mission to glean the secrets of the Great Red Sauce.

But those Italian women are tricky. I would spot a large pot on a stove and eagerly ask, 'oh, you're gonna make the sauce - great, I wanna watch'. Foiled again. That night's sauce has been simmering for two hours already, and we're just sitting down to lunch.

I had heard tales of Jackie's cooking before we arrived at Mike's sister's in North Carolina. So when she began her trademark dish, my pen was at the ready. I even made her rewind and rehash for me the crucial part - the red sauce. Except of course she couldn't provide quantities for her Eggplant Parmigiana. So I made up the measurements below last night.

Eggplant Parmigiana is one of my favorite Italian dishes but I rarely see it on Australian menus. This is even better than the traditional version. Jackie substitutes parmesan with mozzarella and ricotta.

This is definitely a special occasion dish. And not quite for Billie, yet. But young kids love it. I'll certainly be making it again while eggplants/aubergines are in season.

Our special occasion was warming the new office next door, where Miles has moved his business to, sharing with Morganics. Billie now has heaps more space in our living room to roll around.

 Oh, and if you're thinking this is way too time consuming for a mum, remember it can be made in stages. I put the sauce on at 4pm, looked after Billie while stirring it every 15 mins. She played in her corner while I set to work on the eggplant slices, which I continued while spooning her mouthfuls of soup. It's dishes like risotto that are truly impossible with a baby in tow.

 I have adapted Jackie's sauce a little - she used 3kg tomatoes and simmered for about an hour longer. I've also added fresh herbs and a little parmesan.

JACKIE'S SPECIAL EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

1600g tinned tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
5-6 tblspns olive oil
2 medium eggplant/aubergine
 4 eggs
1 cup fine bread toasted crumbs
1/2 cup flour
500g ricotta (Jackie used a little more)
Container or block of mozzarella/bocconcini
Parmesan for the top (optional)
Fresh oregano (optional)

Start with the sauce. Heat a large, heavy pot and pour in oil. Heat well before adding onion and garlic. Turn heat right down and let it soak up the oil for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and a small amount of water to wash out the cans. Cook for 2.5 hours with the lid off. Stir every 10-15 minutes. Season to taste - you'll be surprised how little salt it needs after reducing right down. I used 3/4 teaspoon salt, a generous grind of black pepper and two tablespoons chopped fresh oregano. But that's just because it's all we have in our garden - basil would be great too.

Meanwhile, heat oven to about 220c. Slice eggplant THINLY. Dip slices in beaten eggs and then breadcrumb and flour mixture. TIP: Hold by edges to avoid egg and flour turning to paste everywhere. Place on a well-oiled tray in single layers. Drizzle with more olive oil. (I found using my fingers to flick the oil worked quite well). Cook for about 7 mins then flip and return to oven for another 7 mins. If you have two trays get a cycle going where one is loaded up while the other bakes. As you remove from oven place on a plate with paper towels between. 

Grease a large oven dish - wider rather than deeper. Place a layer of tomato sauce, then an overlapping layer of eggplant slices. Now mix the ricotta through the rest of the sauce and place a layer of this on the eggplant. Next a layer of finely chopped mozzarella. Then eggplant, sauce, and finally cheese - either more mozzarella or else parmesan. (Jackie's finished sauce was almost 2/3 ricotta and 1/3 reduced tomato, so you may like to try this if you have heaps of ricotta).

Return to oven and bake in middle shelf for 20-30 mins (or longer if you're not too hungry). Serve with steamed french green beans, broccoli or a simple green salad. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture before the four of us devoured it. But you can imagine...







20 comments:

  1. I must make this sauce in summer when the tomatoes are plentiful. I always use them to make tom sauce and tomato oil pickle and tomato chilli jam. I am guessing I could make a sauce like this and seal it in jars for when we need it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good point, I'm sure that's what the Italians do. But actually tinned work well here anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey Sa,
    Love the blog. Actually even risotto is do-able with an ergo baby carrier...I put Milo on my back last week and made risotto not once - but twice!!! But I'll give it to you - it's not my usual trick.
    I also love eggplant - they are so plentiful in Japan (the long and skinny ones), so I cooked with them ALL the time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Debs, Great to hear - thanks. Hmmm, you've set me a challenge. Risotto will happen this week...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sometimes you get those no stir risottos too. Also risotto pies or turning leftover risotto into fritters. Even better into little balls with a bit of mozzarella inside like the Italian suppli.

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