Eggplant Parmigiana and Caponata It’s Fall and my mind truns to frying …

It’s Fall and my mind truns to frying …

November 4, 2007

It’s Fall; just after Halloween, All Saints, All Souls, and my mind turns to frying …

Halloween is the Eve of All Saints, which is when all the dead are venerated. This is followed by All Souls Day. All Souls is the official Day of the Dead in Mexico, but the holiday is celebrated actually between October 31st to November 2nd by cleaning off the graves and having a party—bringing flowers and garlands of marigolds, food, and drink. I find this very interesting—a celebration of life, the continuance of life after death.

It’s much the same in Italy, when people go the cemetery to bring flowers to their departed loved ones. So I used the idea for a scene in my first novel, Lemon Blossoms, at the cemetery of Carini, Sicily, when the main character, Angelica, goes with her mother, Rosalia, to clean off the graves and bring flowers and the mother tells the daughter one of the family stories.

Speaking of things Italian, we went to see a wonderful Italian movie Manuale d’amore 2, directed by Giovanni Veronesi, with stars Carlo Verdone and Monica Bellucci—episodes and all very good.

Now here are two recipes for: caponata and eggplant parmigiana

But first … a huge pot of tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce (the following is for 3.5 lbs—so double it if you are going to make both of the recipes below: caponata and eggplant parmigiana!)

5 tablespoons olive oil
5 whole garlic cloves
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 (28-ounce) (800-g) cans peeled Italian tomatoes
a bunch of fresh basil leaves
at least a teaspoon a salt—but taste
(My measurement is a tiny little dish full of salt which I just sprinkle on top—my hand knows how much and when to stop—that’s because it’s a second generation Italian hand and has been making this since I was 11 years old).

Use Italian tomatoes because they’re sweeter, contain less water—especially if they’re San Marzano! The best of the best! If you have to use American tomatoes, double the amount of chopped onions and add more olive oil, but I could be lying because I really don’t know and have never used American tomatoes! This is a plain lightly salted sauce, which can be used to finish other sauces, say for instance one that takes olives, capers and oregano … or fresh tuna, which I made the other night with anchovies, parsley, and pine nuts. Get it?

If you want to use this sauce for pasta. You’ll probably need to add 1/4 teaspoon of salt for each 2 cups, according to your taste.

Pour the olive oil into a huge saucepan (I used heavy aluminum when I cook on electric—and terracotta if I cook on gas. I use a “spaccafiamme” a flame splitter—basically a round wire-mesh screen that the flame passes through but allows it to burn more evenly and hit the bottom of your part!

Set on medium-high heat and cook the garlic and onion for 3-5 minutes—before it turns gold. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the onions are soft but never brown, (I used to do this in my early cooking days—but too often I resented seeing the little brown bits floating in my sauce and ruining the presentation! Less than 9 minutes, stirring occasionally—I toss in white wine—usually ½ to 1 glass.

While the onions are cooking, put the tomatoes and their juices in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. However, I don’t do this—instead I use a whipper-upper that Braun makes, and I blend the tomatoes right in the can after I’ve removed most of the juice, by pouring it into the onions! Add this tomato purée—to the onion mixture, raise the heat to high and bring to almost a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat, add the basil and simmer for ½ half hr. stirring occasionally.

Fall frying

And what better thing than eggplants! Here are two dishes to occupy you for a rainy day such as these two below: caponata and melanzana alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana)

Caponata ingredients:
Olive oil
Unpeeled Eggplant
Tomato sauce
Pitted black olives
Green olives with pimento (or without, but pitless!)
Pine nuts

For the Caponata: here’s what you do

Make a large pot of tomato sauce—usually I do 6-7 lbs at least if I’m doing both of these dishes on the same day.

In Extra virgin olive oil fry: cut up chunks of eggplant, garlic, onions, hot pepper (if desired) celery, then add sugar, balsamic vinegar and wine–red or white. Let that burn off and then throw in tomato sauce, basil and lots of pitted black olives, green olives, raisins, pine nuts and capers.

Chill (best when left at least a day in the fridge) and then serve cold or at room temperature as antipasto–with crackers or thin sliced pieces of Italian bread. (Delish on bruschetta too!) This stays in the fridge at least 10 days to two weeks due to the preservative properties of the vinegar.


Eggplant Parmigiana:

Have on hand, a fresh sliced mozzarella—remember if you use buffala, it kicks out a lot of water…so squeeze some out in paper towels. And also about 4-6 cups of shredded mozzarella—anyone will do (Sargento, etc.). And about 3-4 cups of fresh grated parmigiano or you can use ½ shredded and ½ grated.

Wash and dry three large eggplants. I don’t peel them. Slice them fairly thin lengthways and dip into flour—you may want to do an egg dip with a batter made from breadcrumb—I sometimes do this, depending on time constraints.

In a very large and deep heavy skillet, fry these in a mix of corn oil and a olive oil (3 to 1 ratio) Fry the pieces and set aside. If the oil gets funky and glunky—toss out and wipe down—do not the pan. Replace with fresh oil. When done, toss out the oil and begin with zucchini if you like the mix. I do it many times this way, because if the eggplant tends to be bitter, the zucchini sweetens the batch.

For this much eggplant I use about the same or perhaps one more large zucchini: washed, dried, sliced long. No dipping of this baby and don’t cut them too thin or they will fall apart.
Fry on high heat. Set aside.

Use a large squarish baker—rectangular Pyrex, or a deep Teflon baker, whatever you like.
Start to layer your goodies. First some sauce to cover the bottom, then the eggplant. A layer of mozzarella , then a healthy sprinkling of grated cheese to cover and then more sauce, then zucchini, etc. Fill to the top in alternating layers and cover with sauce and the rest of the cheeses. Bake in a hot over for 45 minutes. 10 minutes at 400 degrees, and then lower to 375 degrees to finish the baking.

Yes, if you’re in a hurry, you may cheat and cook it in the microwave … it’ll do in a pinch. About halfway through the cooking, you may have to throw out some of the liquid. Do not ask me how long—probably 20 minutes total. But the best eggplant is made the day before. I haven’t a clue why, but the resting in between the baking and the eating does something magical to the dish to enhance the flavors. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat it on the day you make it—just allow a good “resting” time—two hours at least.

By the way, both these veggies made on the grill are excellent to use for the parmigiana and leaner fare for the fat conscious! Sorry, folks, they don’t work for the caponata.