At the very end

My mother has a habit of traveling with food. Whenever she comes she arrives with a packed cooler: extra arugula from their CSA pick-up, a half gallon of cream she thinks ought to be used up, a few prime tomatoes from the pots on the patio out back. This trip, she brought us an eggplant—a two-pound, deep purple, homegrown beaut.

It's getting late for eggplant—like the tomatoes and the squash, it's time to harvest the last few fruits, untangle the vines, and yank the rows out—but this is when I like it best. It's too hearty for the heat of August, too rich for Indian Summer, too elegant. It's better, I've always thought, as a crisp days, chilly nights kind of event, toward the close of the season, when you catch it at the very end.

When I first saw the one my mother brought, I was thinking ratatouille. But then the recipe next to it in Victory Garden Cookbook, the Eggplant Parmesan, caught my eye. The recipe was simple: we had tomatoes, onions, red wine for sauce, we had basil and oregano and bread crumbs for the eggplant's crust. We had eggs for the coating, a ball of mozzarella and the last of a hunk of Parmesan for the rich, bubbly top.

The oven warmed up the kitchen, spilled out into the dining room, took the chill off the windows and fogged up the glass. We cut through the layers and I could almost hear the change: warmth giving into frost in a small, quiet gasp.


This is the sort of recipe that you make once, and suddenly, you can't imagine life before Eggplant Parmesan. The header in the Victory Garden says that homemade tomato sauce is best, and I have to agree. Otherwise, success is pretty much guaranteed.

a roughly 2-pound eggplant
3 eggs
2 tablespoons water
1 and 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup basil leaves, packed
1 ball mozzarella cheese, sliced
3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade

Peel the eggplant and trim the ends. Cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices the long way. Get out a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish, layer the eggplant slices in, and salt them. Let drain for 30 minutes, then pat dry with a dishtowel.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Get out two shallow bowls. In one, beat together the eggs with the water. In the other bowl, whisk together the bread crumbs and oregano. Dip the eggplant slices first into the egg mixture, then into the bread crumb mixture. Heat up 1/4 cup of the oil in a large frying pan, and sauté the eggplant slices until golden brown on both sides. Remove the slices and drain them on a dishtowel. Cook the rest of the eggplant, adding oil as needed, and drain.

Rinse out the casserole dish and layer half the eggplant slices evenly across the bottom. Sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan cheese and layer on half the basil leaves, a third of the mozzarella slices, and half the tomato sauce. Repeat the layers and top with the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the layers are heated through and the cheese on top is golden brown and bubbly.


Anna said...

I was just thinking about making this tonight! We have two little baby eggplants that need to be used up. I guess great minds think alike! xoxoxo anna

Elspeth said...

Anna, I am so jealous! I wish we had another eggplant and could make it again. The whole thing disappeared in about two days, which in a household of two people says a lot.


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