Here I thought we were locked in until next November, long days in the high 90s and muggy and then, thank you very much, the weather broke for a few days. Ahhh… spring! Enjoy it while it lasts, no matter what part of the world you are in. I’m taking advantage of these last few days that are cool enough to run the oven fearlessly, while enjoying some less-than-wintry fare.
I love eggplant. I love it baked, fried, oven-roasted and puréed with garlic to make baba ghannouj (spell it any way you like, I love it!), layered with meat and sauce and baked into a moussaka, it all makes me happy. But I have had more epic eggplant fails than any other kind of kitchen disasters.
It should be easy. Basically, peel it, and if it is an eggplant of a certain age, salt it to drain out the bitterness. Rinse, dry, fry… and take it from there. Honestly, I don’t get it, but I’ve tried oven-roasting it, slicing and baking or frying or sautéing it, grilling it, you name it. You’d think it would be quite straightforward, wouldn’t you? Nope. I’ve managed to pretty much either under-cook (gaack, soggy-chewy-nasty) or overcook (gaack, burned-tasting) it almost every time I’ve tried to make it.
This is not to dissuade you from trying it, not at all! In fact, I think I have finally found an eggplant recipe that works for me. And, it isn’t the recipe so much as the equipment required that seems to make the difference. Apparently its all in the cookie sheets!
My cookie sheets are old, tired, and sort of thin. It seems that this is a large part of my problem. I made this recipe (see the second photo below) at my sister’s and her cookie sheets are respectable. Voilà! The sliced eggplant was tender, not burned, not mushy, perfect. So… I am in the process of augmenting my cookie sheets, and unless it turns out that the problem is my oven (oh I hope not!) I’m on my way. Notice I say augmenting, not replacing, as I don’t think I could make granola on any other cookie sheets but my old ones, but that’s another story.
I will confess that I did not make the eggplant dish in the upper photo.I enjoyed this eggplant dish in Greece in a little taverna years ago. It was and is the best eggplant I have ever had. Of course, it was Greece and a beautiful day and I was with friends… it all contributed to the flavor I’m sure.
But listen, I think I’ve come very close to recreating it, and this time it did not fail. I followed the recipe closely and it came out a bit more Italian than Greek, but next time (ah, next time, next time, says the cook…) I’m going with less Parmesan and more feta and I think it’ll be just right. In the mean time, I offer you, featuring several members of the nightshade family:
Extra-Rich Cheesy Baked Eggplant
2 large or 3 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/4 C olive oil (about)
freshly ground pepper
1 tub (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or 1/2 C each Parmesan and feta)
2 T chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 C marinara sauce, home-made or store-bought
Preheat oven to 425°. Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with olive oil.
Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on two rimmed (heavy) cookie sheets. Brush well on both sides with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until the eggplant is tender and golden, turning halfway through, a total of about 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 of the other cheese(s), and the pepper and herbs. Set aside.
When it is well-roasted, place a layer of eggplant slices in bottom of prepared dish; spread with marinara sauce. Top with another layer of eggplant; spread with half of ricotta mixture. Repeat layers, ending with ricotta; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 C Parmesan. (You can stop at this point, cover it with plastic wrap and foil and hold it for 24 hours in the fridge. Just take it out 1/2 hour before baking and add a bit of time if necessary to make sure it has baked through) Reduce heat to 400 and bake until bubbling and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving to let it set and to (hopefully) avoid a roof-of-mouth cheese burn. (Oh, and you might want to put the baking dish on a cookie sheet – this can get drippy.)
All it wants is a nice green salad, some crusty bread, and perhaps a rough red wine or a bit of raki. Mmmm…
If it worked for me, this will work for anyone! It is rich, but it keeps well and reheats nicely, so no worries! Let us know if you try it, and enjoy! And, of course, you could use dried herbs if you don’t have fresh available, and you could add a layer of browned ground beef or lamb, or some olives, or… you know how it goes. Mmmm… its all good!