Eggplant (not really) Parm

I have access to an awesome farm stand.  Awesome because all the food is grown within miles of my house and because the produce is super cheap.  I can usually fill a large shopping bag for $10-$15.  It's the fruits - quite literally - of my neighbors' labor: they have a massive backyard garden that they share with others in an honor system style stand.  I stop here at least once a week to supplement my farmers' market sprees.

I get excited about fruits & veggies the way my dog gets excited about his bones & tennis balls.  And when those fruits & veggies are local & organic?  Forget about it - I want it all.  I'm for certain a produce hoarder...this just may fall into the category of eating disorders not otherwise specified...or, much like candida, just another rich, white person problem (see Huffpost's recent hilarious rant on Surviving Whole Foods for that reference).

Point being, I sometimes get overzealous when food shopping - particularly at this farm stand.  Last week, for example, I walked away with 2 pints of cherry tomatoes and 20 Roma tomatoes.  That's a lot of tomatoes...even for a Produce Hoarder.    The cherry tomatoes were eaten as snacks, and made their way into salsa and salads, such as this one:

(That's yellow cherry tomatoes + an assortment of olives, chopped + fresh parsley + lemon juice + olive oil, for the record.  Phenomenal.)

But the Romas just sat there, overlooked.  Total red-headed stepchild.  On Saturday I grew tired/guilty of their dejected presence on my kitchen table, and added them to my project list (alongside reorganizing my cabinets).

BEFORE & AFTER:

I went buckwild organizing and then cooking in my organized kitchen that night and put the tomatoes to good use: I decided to make marinara sauce.  Having some Italian blood, I only eat homemade sauce (jar gravy tastes like ketchup), but I had never made sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes.  I didn't follow a recipe, I essentially just threw a bunch of stuff in a pot and let it cook.

There's the sauce in on the back burner, with some other projects going:

Sunday was my brother's birthday party, being celebrated with a huge corned beef dinner (since my birthday is on Saint Patrick's Day and I'm a vegetarian, we tend to postpone the traditional boiled dinner to September when it will be appreciated...just one of the ways my family does things ass-backwards.)  I wanted to bring over some food to the party that wasn't boiled in meat juice, so I pulled out the sauce from the night before and grabbed a few eggplants I had kicking around.

If anyone could weigh in on what that yellow thing is, I'd really appreciate it.  My husband brought it home from his office garden and I just assumed it was some type of eggplant.  Big seeds and really tasty!

So marinara sauce + eggplant = Eggplant Parm.  Except if you're not using Parmesan cheese, I don't think you can really call it Eggplant Parm.  Let's say the Parmesan is an optional ingredient.  Oh yeah, I also didn't bread the eggplant sooo this is not really Eggplant Parm at all.  But it is really good.  I didn't plan to post this recipe (hence lack of finished product photo) as it seems overly simple, but then I figured that the simplicity might be the best thing about it.  It was super impromptu and super tasty.

 

*An important tip on cooking with eggplant: Sweat it out.

Sprinkling salt onto cut eggplant pieces will draw out some of the moisture of the vegetable & create a more tender and less bitter final product.  Eggplant is pretty spongy and can potentially suck up a ton of oil.  By sweating your eggplant, you can reduce the amount of oil it absorbs.  This step isn't required, but you will probably notice a favorable difference if you have the time to do it (especially with larger eggplants, as they tend to be more bitter).

How to?

I slice the eggplant, sprinkle pieces with salt and layer them with paper towels.  You could also just put them in a colander with some salt, instead.  Pick your poison.  Allow the salted eggplant to sit about 30 minutes (you'll see the slices sweat, or the paper towels get wet).  Wipe or rinse them off.  Now you're ready to cook!

Eggplant (not really) Parm

Marinara Sauce

3 T olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, sliced

1 large shallot, minced (could use sweet yellow or white onion, as well)

Fresh chopped herbs (rosemary and oregano work great here)

20 Roma tomatoes, chopped roughly

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add garlic, shallot & herbs, cook until fragrant 3-5 minutes.  Add chopped tomatoes, and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow to cook 1-4 hours.  This sauce could really be enjoyed about 20 minutes into cooking - just throw over pasta - but the longer it looks, the more the flavors develop and the better the consistency becomes (read: less watery, more thick).

To Prepare the Eggplant

3 small eggplant, sliced thin

Sea salt

Olive oil

Sweat the eggplant using the directions above.  Let sit 30 minutes.  Layer eggplant onto baking sheets greased with olive oil and bake in a 350 degree oven until soft and slightly browned - about 10 minutes.  Flip halfway through cook time.

To Prepare the "Parm"

Place eggplant rounds in a single layer on a shallow baking pan.  Top this layer with a healthy spread of the sauce (don't be shy - you don't want the dish to be dry).  If using Parmesan cheese, sprinkle a layer on top of the sauce.  Chopped fresh parsley would be really yummy sprinkled on, as well.  Continue this layering process until you're all out of ingredients.  If using cheese, top with a sprinkling of cheese.  Cover with tinfoil and put back in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes - 1 hour.  I like my eggplant really soft, so I left it in the full hour. If using the cheese, take the tinfoil off for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking to brown the top a bit.

Serve over pasta, alongside a salad, or as a side dish.  This recipe didn't make a ton of food (about 2 full dinner-sized servings), so definitely increase the ingredients if you're looking to serve more people, or have leftovers.  This dish would also be great with other veggies - sliced zucchini & summer squash would be perfect.  No need to sweat those.

Mangia!