Meatless Monday: Eggplant Parmesan with Fresh Mozzarella

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My mother worked as a teacher’s aide at my elementary school for much of my and my sister’s childhood. She would get out around 2 or 2:30 p.m., come home and start cooking dinner. Every night, we would sit down at 5:30 p.m. to have whatever came off the stove or out of the oven. This means that she had anywhere between 2 and 2 1/2 hours to prepare dinner each night.

I’m not sure any employed person has this kind of time anymore to work on the evening meal and expect to eat before 8 p.m. This isn’t a prelude to a rant about this dissolution of the American family because both parents work, or because we don’t all sit down to dinner anymore. It’s more a feeling of bewilderment that someone had that kind of time during the day. (The tradeoff, of course, was that my mother made next to nothing, though she did get the sweet school district health insurance.)

2013-10-07 at 15-40-41This recipe’s three parts add up to about 1 3/4 hours of cooking time, not including prep. This is exactly the type of dinner my mother would make, but is completely unheard of now. It’s the type of thing you buy frozen or as takeout.

Or that you can make ahead of time.

2013-10-07 at 15-48-28Each segment can be made in advance. Bon Appétit says the sauce will keep three days; I made mine on Sunday. The magazine also reports that you can make the eggplant up to a day in advance. I made it before assembling dinner and giving it the last 30-minute trip in the oven.

I am exhausted from my four-week run of events that wrapped this past weekend, so it would be easy to skate by on frozen marinara or something easy for dinner. But, complex flavors don’t have to be time consuming if you can break the preparation up into steps.

2013-10-07 at 16-43-33WHAT WORKED: The tomato sauce. It’s simple but doesn’t get in the way of the other flavors. Tomatoes, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil. That’s it.

WHAT DIDN’T: My vegetable peeler. I’m pretty sure the veggie peeler I own was brought from Italy by my great-grandparents. It’s duller than a conversation with (insert relative’s name here).

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “I want more.” Well. Okay! I think she likes it.

WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: I think it shall. It’s actually a very good recipe to entertain with and there’s none of that pesky frying. BTW, I halved everything in this recipe but the sauce so I could make four servings. The below recipe yields eight.

Speaking of The Wife, she is how I take care of extra tomato paste. I just put it in a bowl and leave it out with a spoon.
Speaking of The Wife, she is how I take care of extra tomato paste. I just put it in a bowl and leave it out with a spoon.

2013-10-07 at 17-23-36Eggplant Parmesan with Fresh Mozzarella
From Bon Appétit

3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
10 garlic cloves, 2 finely chopped, 8 whole
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium or 8 small eggplants (about 4 lb.), halved lengthwise
8 sprigs oregano
1 1/4 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
12 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
3 oz. Parmesan, finely grated (about ¾ cup)

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Heat 1/4 cup oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6–8 minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2013-10-06 at 16-50-40Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, mashing tomatoes occasionally, until slightly thickened, 15–20 minutes. Set tomato sauce aside.

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Preheat oven to 400°. Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from rounded side of each eggplant half, leaving a 1” strip of skin around the cut edges. Divide eggplants, oregano sprigs, whole garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup oil between 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Turn eggplants to coat with oil; season with salt and pepper and place cut side down. Cover baking sheets tightly with foil and bake until eggplants are very soft, 40–45 minutes.

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Toss breadcrumbs and remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a medium bowl. Transfer eggplants, oregano, and garlic to 2 large shallow baking dishes, placing eggplants cut side up. Top eggplants with tomato sauce and mozzarella, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Bake until mozzarella is bubbling and breadcrumbs are golden, 25–30 minutes.

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DO AHEAD: Tomato sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Eggplants can be cooked 1 day ahead. Keep covered; chill. Entire dish can be assembled 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

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