Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

This past week I was in California and was not able to join my dinner-making friends for our weekly frolic. Last week, we enjoyed an excursion into Philadelphia and dined at a restaurant called Zahav that serves Israeli cuisine.
I had a wonderful drink called a Desert Rose that blended gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber into a yummy little tonic.  The mini jaunt fit nicely into our recent obsession with making dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook.

The week before, however, it was my turn to cook. I saw some lovely eggplants at the local specialty foods market and I decided to make eggplant parmesan with mushrooms.

Eggplants were first grown in China as far back the 5th century BC, right around the same time the Spartans beat the Athenians in the Battle of Mantinea.  Early varieties were quite bitter, and as with anything bitter, people avoided them, believing them to be harmful and toxic. A few centuries later, less bitter varieties were introduced and the aubergine beauty became a staple in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. The Italians happily adopted it into their family in the 14th century.

Eggplants contain nasunin, an antioxidant known to protect the fats in brain cells from free radical damage (maybe biology major younger daughter can explain this to has something to do with unpaired electrons), and, as all vitamin commercials remind us, antioxidants may help to promote graceful aging.

I wonder if there a cookbook dedicated to eggplant preparation. 

Eggplant is a fruit closely related to the tomato and that perhaps explains why the two pair so well together. Eaten raw, the eggplant is bitter but relatively spongy so it absorbs the flavors of recipe companion ingredients nicely. To reduce the bitterness, some suggest salting, draining and rinsing prior to cooking. I think this method flattens the taste of the eggplant and personally, I like to simply slice it thinly, dredge it in flour, eggs then bread crumbs and sauté until brown on both sides prior to baking.  To make the sauce, I used a can of San Marzano tomatoes -- they have less seeds -- and a few fresh tomatoes from Irish Guy’s garden.

Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

About 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ sweet Vidalia onion, chopped
3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few turns of sea salt in a salt grinder
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon of fresh marjoram or oregano
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
¼ - ½ cup of water
Splash of red wine vinegar
1 large eggplant
3 cups panko bread crumbs
About 2 cups of flour
1egg, beaten
½ cup olive oil
1 8 oz container of sliced mushrooms
2 cups of mozzarella cheese
1 cup of Parmesan cheese

To make the simple tomato sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 swirls of the pan of olive oil and add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Swirl is such a happy word, don’t you think? Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices and the fresh tomatoes, breaking them up as they cook with a wooden spoon.  Add some water if the mixture appears too thick.  Add the salt, brown sugar, marjoram or oregano and basil and bring to a boil. Add a splash of wine vinegar… this boosts the flavors! Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes.

To prepare the eggplant, peel the eggplant and slice into thin pieces, about ¼”.  Dredge the slices in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs and sauté until lightly browned on both sides.  In a large casserole dish, add a layer of the sauce, then a layer of browned eggplant, some sliced mushrooms, then some of the cheeses and repeat until all the ingredients are gone.  Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling.  Serve with buttered noodles or rice.

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