Eggplant Parmesan & Martha Stewart. Oh my!

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Two weeks ago I visited the Frieze Art Fair. Since Reed’s involved in the arts, he had VIP passes and we took advantage of the very civilized lunch in the VIP section. The lunch, a shared plate of fava bean risotto, eggplant parmesan, salmon over asparagus and grilled steak, in the photo the steak’s hidden behind the pitcher of mushroom sauce, was reminiscent of food you’d have at a wedding.

Catered under a temporary tent in a field with no plumbing, no wonder it tasted like wedding food. Although I’m not sure I totally believed our waiter about the no plumbing it did help them to sell lots of bottled water.

While the art was very nice, the most exciting part was that I got to stand less than three feet away from Martha Stewart!  She briefly entered the VIP lounge during lunch and I crossed my fingers and hoped the hostess would lead her to the empty table near us but Martha didn’t stay.

Later, when I was at the information counter, who should walk up to the counter next to me? Ms. Stewart. Yay! Reed gave me a ‘Go introduce yourself and tell her about your blog.’ look but if I was a celebrity having a nice afternoon with my very well behaved & cute baby grandson I think I would hate that sort of thing so I didn’t interrupt.

My history with Martha goes way back…. For my 12th birthday, my grandmother gave me the Martha’s Pies and Tarts cookbook. My family loves pies and as the favorite and only granddaughter, my grandmother had high hopes for me (incidentally, just a  week earlier I gave my grandmother Martha’s newest book Martha’s Entertaining for her birthday).  I still remember there was a persimmon tart recipe which called for a special variety of persimmon that Martha’d found in Hawaii on her honeymoon and brought back to her orchard in Connecticut. At 12 with no access to persimmons let alone the special variety from Hawaii, this was frustrating. Thus began my mixed feeling that I think many women share about Martha Stewart.

While I’ve never made the persimmon tart, that cookbook greatly expanded my pie and tart repertoire. I still make the walnut tartlets from that book.

Eggplant Parmesan (serves 4-5)

(Active time: 50 minutes    Total time: 2 hours )

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil (used 2/3 cup canola because I only had good extra virgin olive oil which was too good for frying and I didn’t want to use a big pan)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
  • 20 fresh basil leaves, torn in half (I used 1 tsp dried. My basil plant is still recovering after making the bruschetta)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano  (I only had 1/3 cup on hand so I just used it to sprinkle on top at the end and it didn’t fast like it short on cheese at all)
  • 2/3 lb chilled fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Toss eggplant with 2 teaspoons salt in a colander set over a bowl, then let drain 30 minutes.

While eggplant drains, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, until golden, about 30 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes, basil, pepper, and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Stir together flour with salt & pepper in a shallow bowl. Lightly beat eggs in a second shallow bowl, then stir together panko and 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano in a third shallow bowl.

Heat oil in a small skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Dredge eggplant in flour, shaking off excess, then dip in egg, and dredge in panko and fry up to eggplant 3 slices at a time, turning over once, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in bottom of a square 8x8x2 inch baking dish. Arrange about 1/3 of eggplant slices in 1 layer over sauce, overlapping slightly if necessary. Cover eggplant with about third of remaining sauce and a third of mozzarella. Continue layering with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and golden and sauce is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

*Eggplant Parmesan would go well with a simple salad and garlic bread.

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