Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Eggplants and Parmesan

Since we are heading full throttle towards the beginning of a new year, I have started working on a couple of early resolutions. For one, after much hemming and hawing, I have decided to get over my need to have perfect photos to go with every entry, and just focus on writing more. I am not a photographer and do not foresee an expertise in this realm any time soon.

As you might be able to tell from my new running head, I was also craving a new look for the site. This gorgeous ode to cheese was taken at what is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite restaurants, Gramercy Tavern in New York City. It is a photo of their renowned cheese station, and though I took this picture several months ago, I am still amazed that I was able to capture this image. Gramercy Tavern is a New York institution, the place where Tom Colicchio got his start, and a place that never fails to delight me with consistently excellent food and an ambiance that is at once intimate and rollicking. This photo reminds me how absolutely beautiful a table of nothing but cheese in all its artful simplicity can be.

Cheeeeeesse. I would not want to imagine my world without it. When I recently discovered that I had a sensitivity to wheat, my first thought was, “Thank God its not dairy.” I was of course fazed by the news, but truth be told, I feel so much better after cutting wheat out of my diet that it’s hard to get too worked up about it. And many of my favorite recipes don’t have anything to do with wheat. After a few crestfallen moments realizing that I would have to eat less pasta (I refuse to give it up entirely!), I began to account for all the wheat free foods I could come up with. The first recipe that came to mind was Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan. Before trying Oliver’s recipe, I was not at all a fan of this Italian-American classic. Somehow, being battered and fried and smothered in tomato sauce is something I think best left to the mozzarella sticks of my youth.

This recipe is light, even airy, and is delightful with a salad and crusty bread (if you are so inclined). If I want a couple extra portions leftover, I add in lasagna noodles* to make it more substantial. I also tend to add a bit of fresh mozzarella to the top, but it is lovely with or without it...

*For gluten-free readers: I recently discovered the joy of Tinkyada’s brown rice pasta. Try theirs if you want to opt for the lasagna option.

Eggplant Parmesan

Adapted from “Jamie’s Italy” by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, 2006)
3 medium-large eggplants, cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can no-salt plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as needed
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs, optional.
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, optional.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two or more baking sheets. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onion. Sauté until soft: about 10 minutes. Add garlic and dried oregano and sauté another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, breaking up whole tomatoes with your hands. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Add vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Into a 9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan, spoon a small amount of tomato sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and oregano, if using, with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

4. Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and center is hot, 30 to 45 minutes depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Recipe can also be reheated.

Yield: 4 main dish servings.
Time: About an hour 45 minutes- 1 hour


blair said...

Amazing picture of the eggplant mine was not so photogenic, but was honestly the best eggplant parm i had ever had! Seriously folks I was a tester on this recipe and I can speak for it....simply amazing. It will be in my frequent rotation for sometime to come.

jj said...

I'm gonna have to try that one on a night when my faux-vegan eggplant-avoiding partner is away from home!

maggie said...

I love this cookbook and have been meaning to make this. Glad it turned out well!

Helen said...

Love the new entry--anything with both "rollicking" and "crestfallen" is bound to be interesting. Sorry about the wheat, but, yes, you still have cheese. The recipe sounds great--I'll try it on a quiet night (if that ever happens!)

And can't believe the Gramercy Tavern photo wasn't taken by a professional : )

Lo said...

The site looks beautiful! Oh cheese, cheese, what is more beautiful? I missed good cheese so much when I was pregnant and neurotically not eating any of it.

But I don't think I knew you were going wheat free. A challenge, but I am sure you will discover new culinary delights as a result!

Attia said...

Loving the new look! Gramercy Tavern really can do no wrong. This recipe sounds just as amazing...

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