Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eggplant parmigiana "pizza"

Eggplant parmigiana is one of my favorite, favorite foods of all times and one of the primary reasons I grew (well, attempted to) Japanese eggplant this summer. What's not love about the combination of silky eggplant and rich tomato sauce, kissed with fresh basil, then caressed with melted mozzarella and a dusting of parmesan?

To me, Japanese eggplant truly elevates this dish. It has always seemed a little more buttery and sweet to me -- a great foil for the tomato sauce -- and perfect for whipping up a wicked EP.

This, of course, is all well and good if you have a robust crop of Japanese eggplant, which alas, I do not. Right now the summer's yield totals 1.75 -- one fully ripened fruit, which I harvested; one half way there; and one teeny, tiny one that will be lucky to mature before our first frost. Ah me, the joys of living in the Inland Northwest.

BUT may I suggest an alternative if you, like me, are eggplant-impaired? I believe it's a fairly toothsome substitute for its fully constituted big brother:

Eggplant Parmigiana "Pizza"

1 fairly large, ripe Japanese eggplant (or 2 medium)
About 1 to 1 1/3 cup whole, freshly picked, ripe cherry tomatoes (Try throwing in a few partially ripe ones too; they really pop in this recipe)
A jar of pesto (Go ahead, it's okay. I won't tell seeing as my basil crop crapped out on me as well. I used DeLallo)
About 1 c fresh grated mozzarella
About 1/3 c to 1/4 c fresh grated parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Thinly slice the eggplant. A mandoline is ideal for this. Place in a colander lined with a paper towel, sprinkle with kosher or sea salt and let them "sweat" for about an hour. This eliminates some of the eggplant bitter taste (not so much of a problem with Japanese, but definitely with regular eggplant) and seems to "tenderize" them just a titch.

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Once they've "sweated," rinse, pat dry and lightly dredge the eggplant slices in flour. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large saute pan, add enough olive to completely cover the bottom and saute the slices in till crisp and golden. Since you're just cooking one eggplant, you can probably do them all at once, but if it seems crowded, cook in batches and drain on paper towels.

Create one layer of eggplant, slices just barely overlapping, in an 8 x 8 bake pan coated with nonstick spray. Brush with pesto according to your love of pesto.

Take the cherry tomatoes and halve or quarter them, depending on their size. Layer evenly over the eggplant.

Fresh grate parmesan cheese over the tomatoes till lightly covered, maybe the equivalent of a 1/3 cup or so. Then top with fresh grated mozzarella, at least a cup.

Pop in the over and bake for about 10 minutes till you can hear the tomatoes popping and sizzling; reduce the over heat to 300 degrees and continue to bake till the cheeses are melted and take on a beautiful light golden cast. The outside edges of the eggplant should look crispy.

Cut into squares or triangles and eat immediately, maybe with a little skiff of pesto.

Here's why "immediately": Because the eggplant is thin-sliced, the skin gets crispy and flesh unbelievably creamy. The melted parmesan crisps up too -- in contrast to its mozzarella cousin, and the tomatoes are, well, just straight up ridiculously good. (Eggplant Parmigiana Pizza is just dandy reheated, but loses a little of that wonderful straight-out-of-the-oven crunch-creamy combination.)

I'm thinking this would makes about 4 good-size appetizer-size servings.

Enjoy! and here's to a better growing season next summer.

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