We all have comfort food. My comfort food is pretty much always anything Italian…or at least American Italian. On Sunday, I wanted to make a nice dinner for Gia because she was a little nervous about being one of the starting six for her game. I had just enough time to throw these ingredients together and catch Gia’s game which was right down the street.
Whenever I cook, I always say that you should start with quality ingredients. When I first moved to Manila I was spending a fortune on this dish (it is meant to be an affordable casserole and can often feed quite a few people with one small tray) because I would buy the Italian eggplant (that I was used to using in New York) from Santi’s. When I figured out how to make this dish using the local eggplant, it became a less expensive dish to make because I wasn’t using such expensive ingredients. As you probably know from my other posts, I really don’t measure when it comes to cooking. I try and estimate the amounts of my ingredients, but many times, you have to continously taste your food to know what you should add or what you are lacking.
1/2 kilo of eggplant peeled and sliced on a diagonal about 1″ thick
about a cup milk of milk to soak the eggplant and a splash for the eggs
1-2 cups Italian bread crumbs
*If you don’t have Italian bread crumbs you can add a few spices to plain bread crumbs to make them Italian. Add some Basil, Parsley, and a dash of Oregano. Don’t forget to salt and pepper your bread crumbs too.
1) Soak your eggplant in milk after you wash, peel, and slice it in 1″ diagonals. I like slicing it on the diagonal because it’s just a bigger slice. If you slice it in coins I feel like there is so much more work for the same amount of eggplant. Soak your eggplant for about 10-15 minutes.
*Be really choosy when you are picking your eggplant. I have found that the bigger eggplants often have some worms inside. I make sure to choose eggplants that have no skin imperfections and are firm to touch. But sometimes, even this isn’t a good indication. When I slice each eggplant I’m very careful and I’m kinda O.C. about inspecting each piece.
2) Dip your eggplant slices in your egg wash. Lightly beat your 2-3 eggs and add a splash of milk and salt and pepper. (We salt and pepper everything…all the time…every time)
3) Cover your eggplant in your Italian bread crumb mixture and fry in olive oil on a medium low fire. You want to achieve a light brown crumb. Set eggplant aside in a colander to drain any excess oil.
*This is a pan fry…NOT a deep fry.
If you have help in the kitchen, this is the time you can assign the task of frying. This is the bulk of the work for the dish. While this part may be very easy, it’s also very time consuming if you are making a bigger batch. The ingredients listed here are enough for an 8×8 pyrex dish.
Any parmigiana dish includes a marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. This is what makes it parmigiana. I learned to make a good marinara sauce when I was first married and I have picked up a few tricks along the way that have made it easier and take less time. The three main ingredients are tomatoes, onions, and garlic. The three main spices that go into this sauce are basil, parsley, and oregano.
For the marinara sauce you will need:
2 large cans of diced or crushed tomatoes (or you can one can diced and one can crushed)
3 medium sized onions peeled and chopped
1 head of garlic peeled and chopped
A large pat of butter (about 4 TBS)
Spices: Dried Basil, Parsley, and Oregano, Fresh Basil leaves washed
*When I buy fresh basil, I don’t always end up using it all. To always have basil leaves on hand, I wash and dry all the leaves as if I’m going to use them. Whatever is left over goes straight into the freezer. Be sure to dry all the leaves so they don’t stick together in the freezer.
If you were going to make this dish in two days, you can make your marinara sauce the day before. If you were going to make it in one day, you can actually start the sauce first and then fry the eggplant while the sauce is simmering.
The problem with marinara sauce is that you have to address the acidity. I address the acidity by adding the pat of butter (about 4 TB but if you really like butter you can add more) but I also throw in a dash of baking soda. My friend Fayth and I would always cook together and she taught me that if you throw a dash of baking soda it cuts the acidity right away. BUT, you have to do this during that slow boil AND you have to make sure that it’s just a dash because it will bubble up and can boil over if you are not careful.
I have found that Filipinos like their tomato sauce a bit sweet. If you like it a bit on the sweet side, this would be where you add a little bit of sugar. However, if you want it to be as close to the American Italian version of an Eggplant Parmigiana you would leave the sugar out. When ever you are cooking, it’s really important to taste everything as you go.
My favorite part of preparing this dish is the assembly. I prepare all my ingredients and keep everything near by.
You will need:
grated parmesan cheese
grated mozzarella cheese
*I grate all the mozzarella and then freeze what isn’t used so I can use it again later. You can buy the pack that is already grated, but that also adds to your cost. A block is usually cheaper, and takes only a few minutes to grate. I usually task the kids to grate the cheese if they are around.
Begin layering your ingredients with marinara sauce, eggplant, parmesan cheese and then tomato sauce again. After you have made enough layers to fill your casserole dish, top with the grated mozzarella.
Bake your eggplant in a preheated oven set at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 C) for 45 minutes. You should see the tomato sauce boiling and the cheese should be lightly browned.
I like to serve this dish with fresh baked bread and a green salad. This past Sunday we also had some grilled sausages. If you have french bread you can make your own eggplant parm hero. On Fridays during Lent, this dish is served as a meatless dinner. If you are making a big batch, be sure to make double the marinara sauce so you have enough to make each casserole juicy. You can also use the marinara sauce for pasta to accompany the eggplant if you would like.
Eggplant Parm is a comfort for me. It’s good for the kids because it’s also a vegetable dish that is packed with flavor. It freezes well, and when I’m in the mood to cook, I will double this recipe and make one casserole to eat the day I make it, and another one for the freezer. There are some days when I don’t always feel like cooking so having this dish on hand makes my life easier. I prepare everything as I would normally, however, I leave the mozzarella cheese out. When you want to pull it out of the freezer to bake, let it thaw, top it with the grated mozzarella cheese and bake as you would normally….dinner is done!