I’ve talked already about some of what I’ve learned about cooking, food, and entertaining from my mom, but haven’t mentioned much about my dad. While I think a lot of my adventuresome tastes comes from my mom, I think my dad helped me appreciate the food that just says “home.”
I recently made a recipe for eggplant slices coated in breadcrumbs and baked and was reminded nearly instantaneously of the fried zucchini my dad used to make for me and my sisters growing up. The zucchinis were almost inevitably from our garden out back, sliced in circles, breaded, and fried on the stove. They were perfectly imperfect: salty and crispy and juicy in the middle. I don’t remember what else we would eat with them, but I do remember the sunny, end-of-summer days fighting with my sisters over a plate of them at the kitchen table.
The outside of these eggplant slices are unbelievably crispy with insides that are perfectly creamy–and none of the bitterness that sometimes puts people off eggplant. I could have honestly eaten the entire pan. I think tomato sauce goes with just about anything, plus this was a great way to use up the one jar of tomatoes I had attempted to can a week ago that hadn’t sealed. The leftovers, even at room temperature and having lost some of their crispness, were just as good layered on a crusty roll the next day for lunch as sort of a mock-eggplant parmesan, minus the mozzeralla cheese.
Simplest Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups of sauce. While I have a preferred long-simmering sauce with lots of herbs and spices, this is great when I decide at the last minute that I want something saucy for dinner and don’t have any pre-made in the freezer.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups whole tomatoes with their juices (I used 1 quart jar of tomatoes I canned earlier this summer, plus a cup of leftover whole tomatoes from my freezer)
2 small bay leaves
2-inch piece of parmesan rind
Kosher salt to taste
Small bunch of flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, add oil heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add garlic and lower heat slightly, stirring regularly to avoid burning.
When the garlic is fragrant and just slightly browned, add tomatoes and bay leaves. Crush any large tomatoes and sprinkle lightly with salt. Simmer over medium low heat, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parmesan rind, if using, and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or until thickened. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in parsley and season to taste.
Baked Crunchy Eggplant
Serves 4-ish. I found this at In Jenni’s Kitchen and made it very nearly exactly as written, with the addition of some cheese grated over top; the only change I would make next time would be to slice the eggplant a little bit thicker.
2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced 1/4 inch thick (a mandolin is very helpful for this)
2 eggs, beaten
Ground black pepper
Grated romano cheese
Place one layer of eggplant rounds on a plate and sprinkle generously with salt; repeat layers with remaining eggplant. Put a second plate on top of the eggplant and weight it down (a few cans or a heavy pan work great) for about 20 minutes. (If making sauce, this is a great time to start it.)
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and ready two baking sheets with a layer of foil and a drizzle of oil.
Rinse the eggplant of any accumulated juices and salt, lay them on a towel and roll it up, gently squeezing to absorb any liquid. Set up an assembly line of the following: first bowl, flour; second bowl, eggs beaten with a little salt and pepper; third bowl, breadcrumbs. Lightly dust each eggplant slice with flour, dip in the egg (let extra egg drip off), then place in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly to adhere. Place the slices on the baking sheet, grate a little cheese over each slice, and drizzle with a little more oil.
Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven, flip the slices (they should be browning nicely) and grate a little more cheese over them, then return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Cool on the pan or, if they seem at all greasy (mine were not), place them on pieces of paper towel for a few minutes.