Eggplant Parmesan has got to be one of my favorite comfort foods of all time so getting to eat six of them at the same time is like a dream come true to me. Getting to experiment with eggplant parm at the height of the eggplant/basil/tomato season is just a little slice of heaven on earth. But who will win all the glory (because apparently there actually isn’t a REAL prize)? All of the dishes were amazingly delish. I cannot believe that the judges (30 of our guests that weekend) were even able to decide between the 6 scrumptious entries. But in the end, yours truly got to walk away with the non-prize.
The winning dish…
I am going to try and include the recipe here. I had a few random ingredients that I don’t know if they helped the overall tastiness of the eggplant or not. My “breadcrumbs” were actually farmhouse crackers that I made the week before that had gotten a little stale so crumbed them in the cuisinart. Farmhouse crackers are pretty much the homemade version of cheese-its but with minced fresh rosemary in them. Does this really make a difference in the eggplant? Who knows but I will say that the fried eggplant alone with the cracker crust was some of the damn crunchiest best eggplant I’ve had in a while.
We have a whole garden full of heirloom tomatoes so instead of making a red sauce I went with the whole slowly roasted tomato idea and just cooked those babies FOREVER. This is probably the most labor intensive part of the recipe.
Emandal Eggplant Throwdown # 5
For the tomatoes:
10 – 15 fresh ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
handful of sprigs of fresh oregano
handful of sprigs of fresh rosemary
Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Place the rosemary and oregano on baking sheet. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on top of the herbs and pour olive oil over them evenly. Salt the tomatoes and place in the oven.
After a half hour check on the tomatoes. The skins should be pulling back and they should be slightly crispy and a little blackened. Turn over the tomatoes and lower the heat of the oven to 350. After another half hour check on the tomatoes. Keep pouring off the liquid in the pan into a separate bowl while you are roasting the tomatoes.
Finally turn the oven down to 250 to 300 degrees and cook the tomatoes for another 1.5 to 2 hours. These things should be completely falling apart. Take them out and let them cool, take the cores and the stems from the herbs out and set all the tomato flesh aside.
Take all of the liquid from roasting and place in a medium sauce pan on medium heat and let simmer til it reduces by half. At this point I took about 6 cloves of roasted garlic and pureed it into this concentrated tomato sauce.
For the cheesy bechamel:
1/4 cup butter
6 tablespoons flour
1.5 cups half & half
1/2 cup feta
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/4 cup minced chives and parsley
In a medium saucepan melt the butter. Add the flour and stir constantly til very lightly browned. Immediately add the half & half. Over medium to low heat continue to constantly mix the half & half so it doesn’t burn. After a few minutes ( about 10 ) the mixture will thicken. At this point, add the cheeses and the herbs. Stir until all the cheese is melted. Turn off the heat and set aside.
For the eggplant:
2 medium eggplants sliced about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick (you can leave the skin on)
3 eggs beaten in a bowl
1 cup flour
2 cups breadcrumbs ( or cracker crumbs!)
canola or vegetable oil for frying
Take the slices of eggplant and dip them in the egg, then breadcrumbs, then flour and set on a tray.
When all the eggplant is battered fry them until slightly browned and crispy in canola or vegetable oil. Salt the fried eggplant generously when you remove it from the oil. The oil should be about a little less than halfway up the eggplant when frying ( you don’t want to deep fry them).
To assemble the dish:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a 9 ” casserole dish place a layer of the roasted tomatoes. Then place a layer of the fried eggplant.
The next layer will be of the cheese sauce ( if the sauce became thick out of the heat you can turn it on over low heat and add a little more half & half to make it spreadable again).
Make another layer of eggplant. Then place the remaining roasted tomatoes over the top and pour over the concentrated tomato and roasted garlic sauce. Cover the top lightly with grated parmesan, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until bubbly.
Sprinkle fresh basil all over the top to serve.
The tomato part of this recipe can be made up to a few days ahead of time.