Sunday, November 16, 2008

Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook: Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

My mother was really instrumental in giving me a love of food.  And she really tried to make things interesting when I was a kid.  I remember one time she pulled a recipe for eggplant parmigiana from a magazine and made it for dinner.  Now, with common child skepticism, I eyeballed that weird purple thing and decided it probably was not edible.  When it came to the table, it was soggy and bland.  Lesson: don't pull Italian recipes from US women's family magazines.

I honestly did not try eggplant again until I had dinner at Carmine's in New York City one night.  It was a work event, so the entire menu was pre-planned.  Which of course means that parades of food started making their way from the kitchen to our table.  And of course that means the eggplant gets put right in front of me.

With everyone staring at you, and knowing this is a work event, you eat the darn eggplant, even if it means you visit the restroom not long after.  Imagine my surprise when I actually liked it.  The eggplant was cut very thinly, baked in infinite layers, and topped with more sauce and melty mozzarella cheese.  Now THIS is Italian food.  THIS is eggplant.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)
From Carmine's Family-Style Cookbook by Michael Ronis and Mary Goodbody

1 to 2 eggplants (about 1½ pounds total)
2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil
6 large eggs
1¾ cups grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups Carmine's Marinara Sauce
2½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

Cut the ends off the eggplant and discard them.  Cut each eggplant into ¼-inch round slices.

Spread the flour out on a large plate.  Coat each slice of eggplant with flour and shake off any excess.  Stack the eggplant slices on top of each other.

Meanwhile, in a deep heavy saucepan or high-sided skillet, heat about 2 cups of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a deep-frying thermometer registers 350°F.

In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs together with ½ cup of the grated Romano cheese, the parsley, and the salt.  Dip the eggplant, a slice at a time, in the egg mixture and let any excess drip off.  Deep fry the eggplant slices, 2 to 4 at a time, for about 3 minutes or until they are golden brown and tender.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom of an 8x4-inch nonstick loaf pan.  Arrange a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce.  They can slightly overlap each other, if necessary.  Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of marinara sauce over the eggplant.  Sprinkle ½ cup of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon of the Romano cheese over the sauce.  Repeat layering the eggplant, marinara sauce, mozzarella, and Romano cheese to the top of the pan or ½ inch below the rim.  End with a layer of eggplant and about ¼ cup of marinara sauce spread over the top of it.  Sprinkle 1 heaping tablespoon of the Romano cheese on top of the sauce.  Cover the top tightly with aluminum foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake the eggplant for about 1 hour or until it is hot and the sauce is bubbling.  Let the pan sit at room temperature for about 1 hour or until the eggplant is cool enough to serve.

Put a platter on top of the loaf pan and, holding the platter and pan securely, invert the pan to release the eggplant.  Cut it into slices and serve it with warm marinara sauce and grated Romano cheese on the side.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Carmine's Marinara Sauce
3 (26- to 28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup coarsely chopped garlic (about 12 cloves)
12 fresh basil leaves, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the tomatoes in a colander set in a large bowl for 5 minutes.  Reserve the tomato liquid.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook it, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until it is golden brown.  If the garlic starts to cook too quickly, reduce the heat.

Add the basil, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook the mixture for 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to high, and cook them for about 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon or long-handled fork to break them up, or until the tomatoes boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes break down.

Add the reserved tomato liquid.  Increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil.  Boil it for about 12 minutes or until it starts to thicken.  Stir it occasionally and scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent the sauce from burning.

Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set it aside for about 1 hour or until it cools to room temperature.  Transfer it to a tightly covered storage container and refrigerate it for up to 1 week or freeze it for up to 1 month.

Makes about 5 cups


Betty Chan said...

yes i want some. how do i place my order???

cindy* said...

yum! i went to carmine's a few years ago and it was wonderful. great post!

Pamela said... eggplant! And I have had it at Carmine's and it was SO good! Great job. Looks incredibly good.

HoneyB said...

This dish looks so delicious! I guess I need to get the book!

TeaLady said...

Ah parmigiana with Eggplant. I love making this. Your recipe is very similar to mine and my family loves it. Sometimes I just drizzle the sauce and cheese on fried eggplant as seperate little parmiagianas. Easy peasy.

Yours looks delicious.