Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We made eggplant parmigiana in LA!

Last week, Joey, Lauren and I went to LA to visit our dear friend, W. Hunter McClamrock. We drove to San Francisco and back, got picked up by a limo on New Years Eve, were forced to take a crazy detour through the mountains because of high winds and snow in "The Grapevine" (don't ask me California is crazy), rolled around in the fake grass at the Getty Center, ate delicious tacos and sushi and Umami (veggie) burgers, and generally had a lot of awesome adventures. On our last night, we wanted to make dinner and Hunter requested Joey's signature dish, eggplant parmigiana. Joey learned how to make this dish from his mama and has since perfected it on his own.

Most of us associate eggplant parm with the kind you get at most Italian restaurants: one cutlet of thickly breaded or deep fried eggplant drowning in sauce and mozzarella cheese. But the authentic and much more delicious way is to lightly fry thin slices of eggplant and then layer them like a lasagna with sauce and scattered chunks of mozzarella cheese.

But when it came time to start cooking, things got crazy. Let's just say Joey and Lauren had eaten a certain baked good. And let's just say the consumption of said baked good left them somewhat... indisposed (see the pic of Joey below--he was in no condition to cook.) So that left me to make the parm. I was a little intimidated, since it's always been Joey's thing and it's a pretty labor intensive dish, but I'd watched him enough times that I was pretty sure I knew all the steps.

First, of course, I made Mama Vallese's Vegetable Sauce.

Then we skinned three medium-sized eggplants and sliced them longways.

Then we prepared two bowls for the coating: one with flour, one with beaten eggs and parmesan.

Now here comes the labor-intensive part. Get a good inch of vegetable oil going on the pan, dip each slice of eggplant first in the flour, then the egg mixture, and fry those babies a few minutes on each side until the coating turns golden. You will have to do this in many, many batches. Unless you have an enormous pan. As you finish each batch, lay the fried slices on paper towels to absorb some of the oil.

When you're done with all that frying, the rest is easy. Get out your 10 x 15 baking dish and cover the bottom with sauce. Then place pieces of eggplant in one layer, minimizing any spaces between them. Then another THIN layer of more sauce. I would even call it more of a DRIZZLE than an actual layer. Otherwise the whole thing will get soupy and the eggplant won't stay as crisp. Then evenly scatter chunks of mozzarella. Then sprinkle some parm. Repeat until you've used all your eggplant, or until the baking dish can't hold anymore. On the top layer, scatter the mozz (not too much), and then throw on lotsa parmesan.

Cover the whole thing in aluminum foil, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more. It should be all bubbly and brown and delicious looking.

And that's it! Joey ended up recovering in time to help me fry some of the eggplant, which it would have taken hours for me to do on my own. This dish is not difficult to make, but it's way easier if you have a few helpers. Also, you can halve this menu and make it in a smaller pan if you're not serving 10 people like we were. And I guess you don't HAVE to use Mama Vallese's Vegetable Sauce, but the quality of sauce can make or break this dish, so if you're going to buy one, spring for the fancy gourmet stuff.

Here is what our beautiful table looked like in Irma's beautiful apartment in Los Feliz ("The Happiness"--what a nice name for a hood!):

And here is all of us, so psyched to finally eat that parm!


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