I absolutely adore Durham’s Farmers Market. But I have a horrible problem.
It starts at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. For me, that’s practically the middle of the night. It goes ’til noon, but if I go too late, all the good stuff is gone, and it can be so hot that I get all sweaty and cranky.
So, I usually only make it bright and early a few times a summer. But, that’s probably not a huge tragedy, because every time I go, I practically spend our life savings among those amazing stalls.
At least once a season I go on a very important mission. I take a wad of cash, about four string bags, and get all the ingredients for one of our family faves. Almost completely from market ingredients, I make eggplant parmigiana.
It’s not a hard recipe, but it is definitely a labor of love. It takes me two days to turn it out, so I always make two large pans of it, and freeze one for later (don't freeze uncooked eggplant, it will become inedible).
I start with the marinara first.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes (any kind, I like a combo)
1 head of garlic
1 white onion
1 small bunch basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Get your largest, heaviest pot, clean and quarter tomatoes, and throw them in. Peel onion and quarter, peel garlic cloves, and add it all to pot. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, splash in some balsamic, season with a teaspoon of salt, half teaspoon of pepper, and toss everything until coated.
Roast uncovered for about an hour, giving a stir every 20 minutes. When everything is softened, take out of oven.
Either with a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender, puree until smooth. Chiffonade basil leaves, add to puree, check for seasoning, and heat on stove until it comes to a light simmer.
This is a basic sauce that can be used for gazillions of dishes.
Then comes the eggplant. I use four or five in this dish, it really depends on their size.
I peel the eggplant, because the skin never really breaks down, and will just become a tough purple string when eating. I then slice it into ½ inch rounds. Eggplant can contain a little bitterness. To remedy this, I put the slices into a couple of colanders, liberally salt them, and let rest for about 90 minutes. Then I rinse them off, pat dry, and get to work.
Approx. three dozen slices of eggplant
1 loaf farmers market bread
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
2 cups flour, heavily seasoned with salt and pepper
Light oil (I use grape seed) for frying
Remove crust from bread, break up into chunks, and grind in food processor until it’s crumbs. Put into large shallow dish with cheese, and liberally season. Set aside.
Put flour into another dish. Beat eggs with milk, season, and put into third dish. You now have a three part dredge.
Each slice goes first into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Make sure the slices are well covered with crumbs. Refrigerate 30 minutes to set.
Heat frying pan to medium with about ½ inch of oil. When oil shimmers, fry eggplant on each side until GBD (golden brown and delicious). Eggplant sucks up oil, so keep adding fat as needed. Don’t cook them in a dry pan. Remove to a paper towel-covered platter; don’t stack them or crust will come off.
You’re now in the home stretch. Just assemblage and baking are left. If you like, you can stop here, refrigerate, and assemble later.
For the mozzarella, I use Chapel Hill Creamery’s mozzarella. It’s a bit expensive, and has a very short shelf life, but I’ve not found a more buttery, delicious cheese to use. For this recipe, you’ll probably need at least four of those yummy balls o’ cheese.
Get out two 9x13 baking dishes, and spray with cooking spray. Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of pans. Lay eggplant in one neat layer. Put a dollop of sauce on each slice, and spread it out so they’re covered. Place one ¼ inch slice of mozzarella on each cutlet.
Repeat with more layers until eggplant is gone. Check for, and sauce, any dry spots.
Cover with parchment paper, then tightly seal pans with foil.
Preheat oven to 350. Bake for forty minutes, then uncover and cook under low broiler until cheese on top has browned a bit. Let rest for 15 minutes then serve.
Makes two very large pans.
So there you have it. Eggplant Parmigiana fit for a king. Served with a cool green salad, you have the Matthews family’s very favorite summer meal.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.