July through Sepember farmer’s markets are brimming with all varieties of eggplant. This is the season to enjoy eggplant and my favorite way is the northern version of this classic dish. To my southern Italian friends try it you won’t be disappointed.
In addition to the most common variety the purple globe eggplant there’s the white eggplant the size of a goose egg, white and mauve eggplant and the long thin Asian variety. Now through September they are sweet and meaty, and have none of the bitterness you find in winter eggplant. If you have garden fresh eggplant there’s no need to salt them. Salting removes the water, some of the bitterness (if there is any) and it keeps it from absorbing too much oil since the eggplant is like a sponge. If you are in doubt as to whether it’s bitter taste a small piece. It should not be bitter or astringent. It should be slightly sweet and have the texture of a soft apple.
When selecting eggplant choose ones that are shiny and heavy for their size. If they are light, have bruises or feel spongy it’s best to leave them behind. Store them in the vegetable bin or a cool area in your home they don’t like the cold; since they originated in the Asian tropics. It’s best to eat them within a day or two of purchasing them. You can always roast them and store them covered in the refrigerator to have on hand to use in Parmigiana, pasta, dip or a salad.
There’s the classic southern Italian eggplant Parmigiana which can be rich and heavy. My version from the north won’t disappoint; plus it’s fairly easy and quick to make if you have tomato sauce on hand. The northern eggplant Parmigiana celebrates 2 of the best products from Parma, Italy--Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiana Reggiano cheese. I’ve lightened it up by roasting the thick meaty slices of eggplant and not frying it so it is light enough that you won’t feel guilty having seconds. You can serve the eggplant Parmigiana as a first course, main dish for a light meal or a side dish to grilled lamb. Serve with plenty of crusty bread and a California Sangiovese wine.
Serves 4 - 6 depending on how many courses you have.
3 large purple globe eggplant
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8-12 thin slices Prosciutto de Parma,cotto (cooked)
2 cups tomato sauce (see recipe)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat the oven to 450F.
1. Trim the top and slice eggplant 1/2” thick. Lightly salt the eggplant and let stand for 30 minutes. (You may omit the salting if you have garden fresh eggplant.) Rinse and pat dry. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over the eggplants if they are golden brown and bake until the other side is golden, bake 10-15 minutes more. Meanwhile you can make your tomato sauce.
2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F. Tear the basil into small pieces and mix with the Parmigiano Reggiano. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil in a 8 x 11 –inch, or 9 x 9 inch shallow baking dish add a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce then a layer of eggplant, cover with slices of the prosciutto, tomato sauce, freshly ground black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano and basil. Another layer of eggplant tomato, freshly ground black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano and basil. Continue layering ending with the Parmigiano Reggiano. Ideally you should have 3 to 4 layers of eggplant. Dot the top with butter and bake in a 350F oven for 30-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Copyright © Julie Logue Riordan, Cooking with Julie