On tonight’s episode of The Next Food Network Star, Aria asks about her gratin, “how can you serve it if you don’t know how it tastes?!” She’s absolutely right. My Eggplant Debacle of 1996 is a great example of this. Eagerly trying to impress the new boyfriend, I took what I knew of watching my grandma cook italian food and the few things I heard here and there about soaking the eggplant in salt to draw out the moisture, and I went to work. Little did I know at the time, that he already didn’t like eggplant very much. That night would seal that deal, forever. I set about making our family’s eggplant parmesan. I made sure the slices were the same size, I perfected my sauce, had some italian sausage on the side, the kitchen was smelling divine. I was so proud to present the perfect home cooked meal to the boyfriend. I should have tasted it first.
Apparently when grandma made eggplant for us, I ran outside to play every time she was rinsing the salt off because, well, I skipped that step. Shut up, I told you I cook intuitively. Me, consult a recipe, surely you jest! (ok, so I do now, on occasion, but rarely stick to it or look at it more than once). The boyfriend took a bite while I watched. He chewed then winced a little which, of course I interpreted as hardly being able to handle the amazing taste. I later learned he almost spewed it across the room. I took two or three bites, barely held them down, took a look at him and said “wow, it’s pretty salty.” “You noticed”, he said. Had I tasted one little corner of that eggplant prior to baking it, even halfway through baking it, somehow I might have been able to salvage it. As I type this, Bobby Flay just asked Aria if she tasted the gratin before she served them. “No.” What?! You make your way to a show like that, in front of millions of viewers, we assume you are advanced enough to taste that stuff. I think Aarti is going to kill it anyway and be crowned the winner. Alright Team, back to the eggplant. I learned the error of my ways and researched soon after the eggplant mess, how to prepare it best for cooking and I encourage you to try out the very simple, fabulous eggplant recipe below. And yes, I’ve tasted it. I make it with my homemade marinara boasting plenty of garlic, onion, peppers and herbs. We’ll leave that recipe for another day. While some prefer to bread their eggplant, I leave it in its naked state because I enjoy the more rustic, natural flavors of the dish and I believe the breading takes away from that. By the way, I married the boyfriend.
3 large eggplants
- 3 cups marinara (preferably homemade or at least all natural)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 12 oz. mozzarella cheese, thin sliced
How to Make It!
Rinse eggplant and slice off the top and bottom. Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place on a baking sheet or large plate, sprinkle with salt, tilt the plate slightly and place a weight on top. Allow to sit for about 45 minutes.
Thoroughly rinse the salt off the eggplant and pat dry. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the eggplant until done, about 10 minutes each side. Remove the eggplant and drain on a paper towel.
Rub the inside of a large casserole dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of eggplant, then Parmesan cheese, then marinara and finally, slices of mozzarella. Continue layering in this order, until the eggplant is gone. The top should be sauce and a final sprinkle each of Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. Once removed from the oven, let sit for at least 5 minutes prior to serving. Serves 6-8