How to: Recipe Makeover – Eggplant Parmesan

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We’ve been teased with a few days of warm weather over the last couple of weeks.

But I’m on to you, Mother Nature.  I’ve been a Canadian gal long enough to know you’re about to screw us over with a blast of icy garbage.

This ‘spring is just around the corner’ optimism hasn’t got me fooled! On the contrary. I’m still cooking comfort food. Crikey. I’m still cooking casseroles.

I promise, this one will take the edge off when winter does return with a vengeance.

And oh. It will.

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Do we have any eggplant haters out there?

Confession. I used to be one. In fact I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, but I had an especially big hate-on for bitter, spongy eggplant.

It turns out, all an eggplant needs to taste goddang delicious is a little love.

I haven’t had a bitter eggplant in a long time. Most of the bitterness long associated with eggplants has been bred out of the ones we’d find at the grocery store. Farmers 👈🏻 geniuses. Choose eggplants that have smooth skin and a very firm texture for freshness.

Salting the eggplant in this recipe isn’t to cut the bitterness, but to remove some of the excess moisture. Following the roasting step, you’ll be left with creamy, dreamy smokey slices of slightly salted eggplant that will be almost impossible to avoid eating on their own. You really can’t skip this step for this recipe because excess moisture will result in a really soupy final product.

As for the sponginess factor, eggplant, if given the chance will absorb a boatload of oil.  In this recipe we control the oil it can absorb by brushing lightly with oil.

Remember our AMAZEBALLS Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches? Here, we’re avoiding super spongy eggplant by providing a coating for the slices before we fry them up in oil.

And so there we have it. Eggplant: unmasked!

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As you read through the recipe below, you may find this tomato sauce recipe to be familiar. It’s a slight take on the insanely simple Three Ingredient Sauce we shared with you last year. No time for homemade sauce? Use your fave store bought. No brainer.

Half homemade is awesome too, guys. (Maybe just a smidgen of fresh basil to sprinkle in though?)

Now, layer away!

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Get your slippers ready, pour yourself a glass of red and scoop out an extra large portion of eggplant parm.  You are now prepared for winter’s final blast.

Erin

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Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 5-6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
From magazine Inspired by Eggplant Parmesan from Food and Drink Winter 2017

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 can (796mL) Canned Whole Tomatoes with juices (preferably San Marzano Tomatoes)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 Medium yellow onion (peeled and quartered)
  • 2 Large cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • 8-10 basil leaves (chopped)

Eggplant Casserole

  • 2 Large eggplants (sliced into 1/4 inch rounds)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (divided)
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese (about 300g, grated)
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 cooked garlic cloves (removed from cooked tomato sauce)

Directions

Tomato Sauce
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add tomatoes, butter, onion and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, add basil and cook for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat.
2. Remove onion and discard. Remove garlic and set aside to cool. Crush any large tomato pieces with the back of a spoon.
Eggplant Parmesan
3. Preheat oven to 400F. Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt on both sides and lay them in a single layer on a wire rack or over some paper towels. Let sit for 15 minutes, pat extra moisture dry with paper towels.
4. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush slices on both sides with 2 Tbsp of the canola oil. Bake 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until browned.
5. Meanwhile, mince cooled garlic cloves and combine with breadcrumbs, remaining Tbsp of canola oil and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
6. Spread 1/3 tomato sauce over bottom of oiled 8"x11" casserole dish. Place single layer of slightly overlapping eggplant sliced overtop. Combine mozzarella and remaining 3/4 cup parmesan and sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over eggplant slices. Repeat layering 2 more times.
7. Sprinkle bread crumb topping over casserole.
8. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling, cheese is melted and panko is golden brown. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

How to: Make your own – World’s Simplest Tomato Sauce

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This summer has been such a scorcher.  Way back in June, I couldn’t wait to dive head first into Ontario’s summer bounty. For months I’ve been in LOVE with fresh summery salads and grilled everything, but now that September is here, the honeymoon is kinda over.

This Labour Day weekend, we travelled to my BFF’s cottage with a small group of friends.  We always meal plan in advance and decide who will take charge of certain meals.  We chose Sunday night dinner and when I asked my husband Rory if he had any ideas or cravings, he busted out ‘SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS!’. An odd choice since we usually BBQ everything and keep it super simple to maximize outdoor time, but I have to say I was totally on board!

The comfort food cravings are slowly but surely sneaking in.

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In the end we shoved our ‘keep it simple’ rule aside and decided on spaghetti with homemade beef/pork meatballs, eggplant parmesan, homemade garlic bread and a tomato/basil salad with homemade balsamic reduction.

It was a feat and it was just what the doctor ordered for the cool northern summer night.

The one simple thing that absolutely made the meal?  The tomato sauce.

I’ve been making this recipe for years.  It’s a classic by Marcella Hazan, author of the famous cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Can you even believe the simplicity?! It still blows my mind each and every time I make it.  Friends: Do NOT skimp on the butter.

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The recipe calls for ‘your favourite canned tomatoes’. I’ve read many blog posts and recipe comments that insist on using canned San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown and packaged in a specific part of Italy and carry a DOP certification (as does Parmigiano Reggiano) ensuring they are grown and packaged locally.

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I’ve used a variety of canned tomatoes and I always find the sauce delicious (though sometimes I modify it slightly with herbs/garlic/spices).  I’ve always been curious what a side by side comparison of San Marzanos (double the price at least!) and standard Canadian canned tomatoes would reveal. So here it is!

The San Marzanos are canned with a basil leaf and the Canadian’s are not, so I placed one basil leaf in the Canadian batch. The Canadian tomatoes contain citric acid, calcium chloride and almost double the salt in addition to the tomatoes and tomato juice.  I added an extra ½ tsp of salt (to taste) to the S.M. tomatoes in the end.

The verdict:

After a blind taste test Rory revealed his clear winner to be the SM tomatoes.  He described the sauce as sweeter, less acidic and more well rounded.  I couldn’t agree more. The consistency and texture was better too, as the SM tomatoes broke down more easily.  I ended up using a potato masher to break down the Canadian tomatoes in the end.

Are the worth more than double the price? Maybe. If you’re planning to make this sauce in advance, I would probably say go ahead and get the SM.   If you need a last minute dinner and there’s a can of Canadian tomatoes in the cupboard, do not hesitate, make the sauce anyway! It’s simple and delicious no matter the variety.

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Buon appetito!

Erin

World’s Simplest Tomato Sauce

Serves 4
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 50 minutes
Website Marcella Hazan via NYT Cooking

Ingredients

  • 28 oz. can can of whole tomatoes with juices
  • 1 Medium cooking onion (halved and peeled)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • salt (to taste)

Directions

1. Combine the tomatoes, their juices, onion and butter in a saucepan.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered for 45 minutes stirring occasionally and mashing any large tomato pieces with a spoon.
3. Remove and discard (or eat if you wish!) onions before adding salt to taste. Toss with pasta.