A long time ago a couple of Italian entrees sort of became my signature dishes. If you were a dinner guest in our house during the 70s or 80s, you were probably served either a meatless version of eggplant parmigiano or my homemade manicotti (even the manicotti was made from scratch). As my relatives in the south would say, “it was fit to eat!” Alas, I began to actually enjoy cooking at around the time the country began to be health conscious. First fat was bad. Then fat was okay, it was the transfat that was bad. At that point I threw out the margarine and started eating the butter I preferred. Then carbohydrates were bad. Now some carbohydrates are good, some are bad. For several years I’ve hated cooking.
If I do say so myself, last night Hubby and I ate a scrumptious eggplant parmigiano for dinner. Inspired somewhat by the beautiful summertime bounty, I cooked it myself, since Stouffer’s and others can’t compare. We discussed the pros and cons of preparation beforehand. How best to cook it. With breading. Without. Dipped and deep fried. Or baked. We decided a halfway compromise was a good solution. Dip the eggplant slices in egg, roll them in Panko breadcrumbs, lay them side by side on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven until they’re golden instead of (see me shuttttttterrrrrrr!) frying, then layer them with mozzarella and parmagiano cheeses, then bake again until the cheese melts and begins to turn golden brown. That sounded fair.
So I went to work. Then, just as I’d finished the initial preparation with my male eggplant slices, something evil took hold of my hand and reached for the oil which I poured to about an inch depth in the large frying pan. Almost without thinking I dipped the slices into the egg, rolled them about in the crumbs, pressing gently, and placed them in the hot oil. Turning once to brown the other side, after they were a beautiful golden color I turned them onto a paper-lined basket to drain. When I was finished, I made two layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, homemade is good but canned works almost as well, topped each layer with grated mozzarella, then doused the whole top with a good Parmagiano and baked for 20 or 30 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
[ML in Pittsburgh, if you happen to read this, the first word out of Hubby’s mouth on his first bite was YUMM! Just the way you used to say it except for the chest beating. Okay, as trustworthy person who insists on honesty no matter what, I’ll admit one thing. I had to get up for a Tum around 3:30 in the morning, but it wasn’t so bad (only a one-Tum problem) and the delectable eggplant was well worth it.]
So I’ve finally figured out things, I think. I don’t hate cooking because I’m a bad cook. I’m just inundated with too much–and overly critical–food hype. My cooking could taste like many restaurants if I have only taste buds and patrons (family) to please rather than health pundits. I’m pretty sure few restaurants skip on any or all those ingredients that make food taste good, especially butter. I at least curtail and try to use those moderately. Moderation, that’s my rule. And when I think of the fat and carbohydrates my ancestors consumed over their lifetimes, I remember that many of them–the women especially–lived well into their 80s and 90s. But they kept themselves active. Therein, I suspect, lies the secret. Eat whatever you want in moderation, include as many vegetable and fruits in the menu, and get out there and move instead of sitting all day in front of your computer!
Gotta go now. I need to harness up the mule and go plow that “south 40.”
I’m bestirring myself to get interested in cooking again too. I’ve thrown out the margering, don’t cook with salt, and am using olive oil. Tempting myself still further, I joined the cook book club,..a little like the Mystery Guild and the SiFi Book Club. Such a problem this might be….
This is similar to the way I cooked egg plant when our children were young and we raised some in our garden. I have one right now that we purchased at the fruit stand in Santa Clara and I think I’ll follow your lead on cooking it! YUMMM
Did Snookie do a double “YUMMM, YUMMM” in a loud, gravelly voice? That’s equivalent to a belch to show appreciation for an excellent meal.
My recommendation for a double YUMMM: use Ramano cheese instead of Parmigiano. Wear ear plugs at dinner.
LOL…..keep that mule moving.
I was salivating reading this entry. It did sound yummy and I SO agree with you about the moderation. Look at France….classic example. They always cook with butter, olive oil, etc. and the French keep that weight off. BUT…..they walk everywhere!
MAGE, I joined a bookclub once. You should see my kitchen now. I had to buy a special shelf this year at IKEA just to hold my cookbooks, and since it’s full I’m not to buy any more no matter how good a price it is (Hubby’s orders…but sometimes I don’t listen.)
EDNA, did you look at the eggplant’s bottom to make sure it was a boy?!
ML in Pgh, since you haven’t eaten with us in a long time, Snookie had forgotten that it two YUMMS and not one. Maybe a little visit is due.
And TERRI, I use butter and olive oil for cooking, but admit I’ve switched to Promise for spreading. It’s not too bad actually. But I refuse to give up butter entirely!
So nice to hear from all of you.
I learned to cook from my German grandparents so lots of fat – lard even! – and carbs. I do mainly use olive oil now instead but I still cook and eat very unhealthily compared to many of my friends.
It shows on my weight – although not everyone eating healthy is slim! – but from a medical point of view, I don’t appear to be having any more problems in terms of cholesterol, heart, etc compared to my friends. So I’m glad I didn’t spend the last ten years giving everything up, if I’m honest.
BUT I also really love Korean and Thai food, heavy on the herbs and vegetables, which helps to balance out my yearnings for piles of mashed potato and butter topped with sausages, I think. I hope so anyway.
My family and friends day I make the best Eggplant Parm they’ve ever had. I cook it the same as you. Eggs, breadcrumbs, fried in Olive Oil (not extra virgin). I layer with a good jarred marinara sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, and Provolone, NOT mozzarella. I think it makes a huge difference.
The one thing I do that most people don’t is peel my eggplant completely, not striped peels but completely peeled. Then I sprinkle with salt and let the bitterness leach out.
I have given out this receipe to many but they always say it doesn’t taste like mine. They swear to me the followed my instruction. But I believe they either skimped on the ingredients (bad sauce, not so fresh eggplant, poor quality provolone, or even poor quality breadcrumbs) OR the didn’t pick a Male, the didn’t peel it, or didn’t use regular olive oil. It’s not my fault, I didn’t “accidentally” skip some secret in he recipe. They just refuse to believe that the small things like technique and quality ingredients make a difference.
Ron, thanks for stopping by and taking a moment to leave a comment. I agree that provolone and would be marvelous; in fact, I often use it myself when I have it on hand. The best ingredients, fresh, it always is the best way to go. Where in the world do you find San Marzano tomatoes? I’m not sure I can find them in my city, but I’m going to try the next time I’m out shopping. They are THE best if you’re using canned tomatoes to make a nice sauce. I have used the salt leach method, as told to me by my old boss from years ago who was as Italian as you can get–a Sicilian. But I don’t bother so much if I can the male eggplant because it’s not bitter to begin with. Sounds like you’re a natural cook. Bon appetit!
“Pastene” is an Italian-American company that’s been around for year (always a yellow label with red writing). They make canned San Marzano tomatoes that I find in my regular grocery store. As for Pasta Sauces in a jar, my grocery store carried one called “Del l’Allo” which they no longer carry. But Mario Batalli (the chef, not the brand called “Marios”) came out with a line of sauces made with San Marzano’s. You have to be careful. some claim to use San Marzano but they really only use “some” pulp or “paste” combined with other tomatoes. I was so inspired yesterday that I made my E.P. I peeled the eggplant completely, and sliced them very think so they stay together when fried. I used Progresso Italian Style (which just menas with herbs) Panko breadcrumbs for the first time. I like the Panko but they were hard to work with. I found that if I mixed 50% panko with 50% regular Progesso seasoned breadcrumbs that it makes a nice balance. One other thing I found was that when you assemble the E.P. when the eggplant is still fresh and warm, you don’t need to cook it for 30 minutes. You really only need about 20 just so everything heats trhough. If you “re-cook” the eggplant, it starts to get mushy. It’s better to assemble (with just sauce and provolone, them parmagiano reggiano on top) and regrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld, then cook it the next day for about 30 mintues.
Sorry for rambling, just my 2 cents based on many years of experience. I am sort of a natural cook. I find that fresh ingredients and simple techniuqes are the basis for ALL good cooking. There was a Food channel show years ago called “Taste” with David Rosengarten (sp?). He taught the audience a lot about the right way to cook specific items, like a soft boiled egg or cooking a steak the they do at a Steak House (I still use that technique). I also went to a culinary school for a hobby class to learn basic knife skills and do lose any fear of just touching food and making it what you want. There is nothing to fear – it’s not “baking”. That I won’t do. HA!