After being on vacay for a week, and having some really good food (especially the lamb shanks at Milo’s), I look forward to eating at home. The first night back, I pulled leftover spaghetti out of the freezer. Yes, it was carby comfort food, and I enjoyed every bite. Now, it’s back to a normal routine which meant fish topped with corn salsa and herb-infused yogurt. However, the weather is chilly, so more hearty comfort is what I’m craving. Enter Eggplant Parm.
As I was thinking about this, my funky thought was, “If you plant an egg will it grow an eggplant?”
In a child’s literal mind it makes sense, but in reality it grows on a vine much like its nightshade cousin, the tomato. Having a romantic name like aubergine or a notorious identity – melanzane, the crazy apple, eggplant is a mixed up character.
The spongy, somewhat bland tasting fruit readily soaks up the flavors of whatever it is paired with: garlic, herbs and audacious vegetables. Eggplant has a particular affinity for olive oil and fancies hanging out with other family members – tomatoes and peppers, as in a classic Provincial dish of ratatouille.
Eggplants are lusciously low in calories, high in potassium, iron and protein.
The cooking process brings out an exquisite silky texture, mysteriously morphing into creamy, succulent goodness. But eater beware they should not be consumed raw since they contain toxins that dissipate when cooked, which will cause gastro difficulties.
When shopping for eggplant, look for smooth, glossy, purple-hued skin. It should be heavy for its size. Store eggplant at room temperature and use it within a couple of days. Smaller produce will have fewer seeds and a milder flavor. Use the different varieties interchangeably in most recipes.
One of the things I adore most about this particular recipe is that the eggplant is baked instead of fried, oh, and the addition of the crushed red pepper flakes. The kick is really an unexpected taste bud surprise.
Spicy Eggplant Parmesan with caramelized onions and mushrooms
Makes 4 generous servings
- 2 medium sized eggplants sliced in ¼” rounds
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups brown crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 4 cups marinara sauce (jarred or homemade)
- 1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmigiana
- ½ cup flour
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Olive oil
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper
- Slice eggplant into ¼” round slices. Sprinkle with salt and place into a colander, weigh down with a plate. Allow the eggplant to sweat for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Heat a large skillet, drizzled with olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes, then toss in the mushrooms and cook 10 to 15 minutes, until both are caramelized.
- Stir in crushed garlic and red pepper flakes; toast for 2 minutes.
- Mix in marinara sauce. Cover, lower the heat and allow to simmer 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a couple of baking sheets with olive oil. Remove the eggplant from the colander and pat dry. Dredge in flour, place on the baking sheets and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Bake until golden on one side, about 15 minutes, turn over and brown the other side.
- Grease an 8 ½ x 11” baking dish. Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom and a layer of eggplant. Top each eggplant round with a dollop of ricotta or cottage cheese. Spoon marinara over the top and continue to build the layers, finishing with sauce and the Parmigiana.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until it is browned and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Cheers and happy eating, my friends –