Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cooking with Justin

Many of you know my son Justin has graduated from culinary school in Washington, D.C. He now works between 2 restaurants in DC, Watershed and Equinox, owned by the famous Todd and Ellen Grey. Sadly. Justin doesn't have much free time anymore :( On the occasion when he can run home for a day what we like to do together is, what else, cook . On his last visit here I had made some tomato sauce by roasting tomatoes at high heat with garlic olive oil, salt and pepper. I also had  some great eggplant from SIW and a new recipe from Lidia Bastianich (of Felidia and Eataly fame) in hand to try out. The result was delicious, tangy, tomatoey, cheesy and the house smelled fantastic while it was cooking. We halved the recipe but the one below feeds 6-8.  If you like crunchy eggplant just serve fresh from the deep fry but this is a terrific melt-in-your mouth casserole . Enjoy !

Melanzana Alla Parmigiana

3 medium eggplants or 5 to 6 smaller eggplants (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
1 tablespoon coarse sea or kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
All-purpose flour for dredging
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup vegetable oil, or as needed
½ cup olive oil, or as needed
Tomato Sauce
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese or imported Fontina cheese, cut into slices 1/3-inch thick
12 fresh basil leaves

Trim the stems and ends from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1-inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into1/2-inch thick slices and place them in a colander. Sprinkle with the coarse salt and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain throroughly and pat dry.

- When I bread and fry things like these slices of eggplants, I make a little assembly line - that leads from the flour to the eggs, on to the breadcrumbs and right into the pan of hot oil. Placing three rectangular cake pans side by side next to the stove works nicely—there is very little cleanup afterwards—but any container wide enough to hold several slices of eggplant at a time will work just as well.

Whisk the eggs and 1 teaspoon salt together in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan or wide, shallow bowl. Spread the flour and breadcrumbs in an even layer in two separate wide, shallow bowls or over sheets of wax paper. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the floured eggplant into the egg mixture, turning well to coat both sides evenly. Let excess egg drip back into the pan, then lay the eggplant in the pan of breadcrumbs. Turn to coat both sides well with breadcrumbs, pressing with your hands until the breadcrumbs adhere well to the eggplant.

Pour ½ cup each of the olive and vegetable oils into a medium skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until a corner of one of the eggplant slices gives off a lively sizzle when dipped into the oil. Add as many of the eggplant slices as fit without touching and cook, turning once, until well browned on both sides, about 6 minutes. Remove the eggplant to a baking pan lined with paper towel and repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. Adjust the heat as the eggplant cooks to prevent the bits of coating that fall off the eggplant slices from burning. Add oil to the pan as necessary during cooking to keep the level more or less the same.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Heat the tomato sauce to simmering, if necessary, in a small saucepan over medium heat. Ladle enough sauce into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with an even layer of grated cheese and top with a layer of fried eggplant, pressing it down gently. Tear a few leaves of basil over the eggplant and ladle about ¾ cup of the sauce to coat the top evenly. Sprinkle an even layer of grated cheese over the sauce and top with a layer of mozzarella or Fontina, using about one-third of the cheese. Repeat the layering as described above two more times, ending with a top layer of cheese that leaves a border of about one inch around the edges of the baking dish. Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminum foil and poke several holes in the foil with the tip of a knife. Bake 30 minutes.
Uncover and continue baking until the top layer of cheese is golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.
Drizzle sauce around the border of the baking dish and sprinkle the top layer with the remaining grated cheese. Finish with a few decorative streaks or rounds of tomato sauce.

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