Monday, September 19, 2011

Eggplant Parmigiana – my homage to Lillian

A quicker version of classic eggplant Parmigiana but still including the essential ingredients: Golden eggplant, bread crumbs and rich tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan then baked to bubbly perfection. Purists, please avert your eyes!

Food Lust People Love: A quicker version of classic eggplant Parmigiana but still including the essential ingredients: Golden eggplant, bread crumbs and rich tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan then baked to bubbly perfection.
Many years ago we were living in Paris and the summer of 1993 brought us a beautiful baby girl and, two weeks after her arrival, my mother to help me when dear husband went back to work. (Yes, France has paid paternity leave!) She brought along her wonderful friend, Lillian, and together, they spoiled us rotten. 

Lillian’s specialties were anything Italian and, from her, I learned how to make eggplant Parmigiana, which we adored. I must confess that if Lillian were ever to read this post, she would not recognize her recipe because I have developed many shortcuts over the years of which I know she would not approve but, honestly, when I did it her way, I didn’t make eggplant Parmigiana often enough.  And my way is healthier.

Please forgive me, Lillian, but it’s really not just laziness that made me change your recipe! And I hope you know that your kindness and generosity touched our hearts even more than your wonderful meals increased our girth. We have never forgotten you.

Eggplant Parmigiana
This basic tomato sauce is the one I make for spaghetti and meatballs or really anytime I need tomato sauce as an ingredient in any other recipe. Why buy a jar when homemade is so easy? 

For the sauce:
2 cans (15 oz or 424g size) of whole or crushed tomatoes 
1 can (15 oz or 424g of tomato puree or sauce, unseasoned 
3 cloves of garlic 
1 large or 2 small onions 
2 tablespoons dried oregano or Italian spice mix
Sea salt 
Black pepper 
1 tablespoon of sugar

For the parmigiana:
1 lb or about 500g eggplant
4 1/2 oz or 125g breadcrumbs
4 1/2 oz or 125g Parmesan, freshly grated
4 1/2 oz or 125g mozzarella, grated

Dice the onion and garlic and sauté them in a couple of good glugs of olive oil.  

Turn the fire to medium and put the lid on to let them sweat and get soft. This could take as many as 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally, letting the condensation on the lid drip back into the pan.  

When the onions and garlic are soft and translucent, add the canned tomatoes and sauce, along with about another can full of water and the two tablespoons of oregano and the tablespoon of sugar.

Lower the fire to simmer and cook the sauce down, covered, until it is thick and the whole tomatoes start to break apart. You can speed this process along by mashing them with a potato masher, right in the pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Continue to simmer until you are ready to assemble your eggplant Parmigiana.

Meanwhile, slice your eggplant and heat your griddle.  

Lay the slices on the hot griddle and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  

Flip them when browned on one side and remove to a plate when both sides are brown. [If you’d like to make it the authentic (read: Lillian’s) way, you dip the sliced eggplant in egg and then breadcrumbs. Then you shallow fry the slices in olive oil until crispy. Drain on paper towels.  You have to keep adding oil to your pan because the eggplant soaks up the oil like crazy. It’s delicious but, oh, so fattening!]

One step away from Lillian’s method is to dip the slices in egg and then breadcrumbs, lightly spray them with Pam, and then toast them on a cookie sheet in a hot oven until crispy.   I did it that way for a while until I figured out a way the way to cheat even further.)

Don’t forget to give your tomato sauce the occasional stir while you are browning the eggplant.

Your sauce is ready, your eggplant slices are ready and now it’s time to assemble the dish. Start with a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of your ovenproof dish. (If the sauce is too thick to spread, by all means, add a little more water.)

Next, sprinkle the sauce with breadcrumbs.

 Now add a layer of eggplant slices. 

And sprinkle again with breadcrumbs.

Now add another layer of tomato sauce.

Cover generously with Parmesan.

And sprinkle again with breadcrumbs. Then add another layer of eggplant slices. And another coating of breadcrumbs.  You get the picture. The layers go tomato/eggplant/Parmesan, but you put a thin sprinkle of breadcrumbs below and on top of the eggplant each time to mimic the breadcrumbs you would find on each side, if you had dipped the slices and fried them first. Your final layer will be tomato sauce topped with Parmesan, mozzarella and about 25g of breadcrumbs. 

I mixed mine together by hand and sprinkled them on. I find the breadcrumbs help the cheese not stick together as much, which makes sprinkling it much easier.

Food Lust People Love: A quicker version of classic eggplant Parmigiana but still including the essential ingredients: Golden eggplant, bread crumbs and rich tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan then baked to bubbly perfection.
Bake at 350°F or 180°C for about 45-50 minutes or until golden and bubbling. We love eggplant Parmigiana and will be forever grateful to Lillian for introducing us to this delightful dish.


Food Lust People Love: A quicker version of classic eggplant Parmigiana but still including the essential ingredients: Golden eggplant, bread crumbs and rich tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan then baked to bubbly perfection.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pasta with Spinach and Baked Camembert

A fabulously easy option for entertaining, this Camembert baked with garlic and rosemary is set on the table where guests can help themselves to a spoonful or two to drizzle over pasta that's been tossed with baby spinach. 

Last night it was my distinct and utmost pleasure to cook dinner for my elder daughter and her friends. Their cozy hallway kitchen had all the necessary tools despite its compact size and the company was superb.

Our menu included the pasta, fresh Rhode Island-grown grape tomato salad and strawberries and cream.

The fun for me started in Eastside Marketplace where I got to peruse their fresh produce and extensive selection of dried goods. I can see why it has been voted best local market for so many years. With a large Whole Foods in one direction and Eastside Marketplace in the other, the Brown and RISD students are spoiled for choice.

This recipe comes originally from one of Jamie Oliver’s books. I think it might have been Ministry of Food, but don’t quote me.

1 X 250g box of Camembert cheese – you want one with the wooden box
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
100g of Parmesan
16 oz or 500g dried rigatoni or penne pasta
150g or three good handfuls of fresh spinach

Preheat over to 180°C (350°F) degrees. Open the box of cheese and unwrap it. Place it back in the wooden container. (I suggest lining with foil first! The first time I made this, my box popped the side and my cheese melted all over the foil-lined pan that I had put it in.) Score a circle in the top of the skin, then lift it off and discard.

Peel and finely slice the garlic. Pick the rosemary leaves off the woody stalk. Lay the garlic slices on top of the cheese, sprinkle with some pepper and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Scatter over the rosemary leaves and gently pat with your fingers to coat them in the oil. Grate the Parmesan.

Place the box of cheese on a baking tray and put it into the preheated oven for 25 minutes, until golden and melted.

(Mine was well melted after only 20 minutes so watch it.) Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. When your cheese has 10 minutes left to cook, add the pasta to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions. When the pasta is cooked, add the spinach to the pan – it only needs cooking for 10 seconds or so. Drain the pasta and spinach in a colander over a large bowl, reserving some of the cooking water. (I forgot to add the spinach before I drained the pasta and found that it wilted just as nicely when added to the pot of hot pasta with the lid on.)

Drizzle with a couple of good glugs of olive oil and add the grated Parmesan. (I probably should review a recipe before I decide to make it again after many months, but I didn’t. Anyhow, I also completely forgot this part yesterday and didn’t even buy Parmesan, but in the past I have left out the last part of this step anyway and let everyone add Parmesan at the table. Some like it, some don’t in my family.) If you do add the grated Parmesan here and the sauce is too thick, add a splash of the reserved cooking water to thin it out a bit. Season with salt and pepper and give it a good stir. Remove the cheese from the oven.

Divide the pasta between your serving bowls. Either drizzle the melted Camembert on top or pop the box of cheese on the table and let everyone help themselves to a lovely, gooey spoonful.


Everyone served themselves last night and then fought over the last vestiges of cheese while doing the dishes. We finished the evening sipping red wine, sharing funny stories and listening to Johnny Cash. Bliss.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Filo Pastry with Raspberries and Whipped Cream

My mother called me the other night, all excited. She had been watching PBS and Julia Child was on with a guest chef, Gale Gand.  I have DirecTV so I don’t get her same PBS and I had to find the episode online. I don’t know if folks outside the US can watch this, but I am still in Houston, so I could.  This show first aired 15 years ago on 11 September 1996 and young pastry chef Gand made a filo pastry ice cream sandwich.  I love filo for several desserts so I was instantly intrigued. I pretty much followed her instructions for the raspberries but decided to add whipped cream to the top instead of ice cream. Also, each person would get one filo pastry “crust” instead of two, as in an ice cream sandwich.  I also didn’t bother with the berry anchor sticks since I didn’t need to hold another filo pastry circle on top.  If you can’t see the video, don’t worry. I’ll tell you what I did do!

In retrospect, this looks very much like my Meringues with Berries and Whipped Cream but is way less time consuming than making meringues so it was perfect for an impromptu visit to my sister’s.  (I had just been to the imaging center for my mammogram or “the annual mashing,” as I like to call it, so I needed cheering up and nothing cheers me up like a visit to Whole Foods and cooking something for family. Next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you haven’t been for a mammogram yet this year, consider this is your reminder to make an appointment now!)  

3 -6 oz packages of raspberries
1/4 cup of melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
Half package of filo pastry

I preheated my oven (actually sent youngest daughter a text from Whole Foods asking her to preheat the oven so it would be ready when I got home and finished the prep) to 400 °F or 200 °C.

I did follow Gand’s example and cut the filo into fettuccine-width strips.  As she did, I left the plastic on and pulled it all out at the same time as I fluffed up the pastry.

Then I made mounds of the pastry on a parchment covered baking sheet and drizzled them with melted butter and then sprinkled them very lightly with sugar.  I popped them into the oven and baked until golden, about 12 minutes.

While my pastry was in the oven, I prepared the berries. I had three 6 oz packages. I pureed the first one with two tablespoons of raw sugar (but white caster or fine sugar will work) and then folded in the other two packets, to coat the raspberries with the pureed mixture.

Next I whipped 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream until soft peaks formed and stored it, covered, in the fridge.

When you are ready to serve, each person gets one filo pastry round, a heap of berries and a goodly scoop of whipped cream. (I ended up serving this at my sister’s house so please excuse the paper plate.) Delicious!