Fresh Lean Eggplant Parmesan and Finding a Farmer’s Market

I love my farmer’s market. We have a few in the area within 1/2 hour drive, but the closest is also the most convenient (open Saturdays) and has the BEST produce! My favorite stand will be operating until November selling apples, winter squash, and greens along with whatever is still in season. This is what we bought last week.

This is more than I usually get because I needed to make a large pan of roasted veggies to bring to a birthday party for my dear father-in-law who turns 89 this year! Also, my older daughter and her family came from Vermont for a visit  for a few days so I wanted to make sure I had enough healthy vegetables on hand. My grandson is now eating table food – it was this Italian nana’s first opportunity to feed him real food! Tu mangi! (You eat!)

Now we’re working on finishing up those veg – we still have eggplant, cabbage and okra in the fridge. Okra? Not quite sure what to do with that, but I had to try it. But I do know what to do with eggplant! This is my lighter version of Eggplant Parmesan. Forgive me, but measurements are totally estimates. There is so much leeway with this type of recipe because of differences in sweetness and size of the tomatoes and eggplant, so you just have to taste as you go along and adjust.

The way to assure a good result, even without exact measurements, is to use ingredients that are as fresh as possible. You really can’t go wrong that way. Find a farmer’s market in your area. Go here – this should help.

Ingredients:

About 20 meaty tomatoes (I use what I grow – Brandywine)

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

About 20 fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 large eggplant

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin or coarsely grated

Freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese

Salt and pepper

Directions:

In medium saute pan, saute onion and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil until soft. Set aside.

Prep tomatoes – wash, dry and core tomatoes. Cut them in half horizontally and, with your index finger, slide out the seeds. Place tomatoes into a wide saucepan on medium high heat and cover for about 10 minutes so that peels will slip right off. Remove the lid and, using tongs, begin pulling skins off the tomatoes. Then use a stick blender to blend the remaining tomato pulp to desired consistency. Alternately, you could just mash with potato masher – your choice.

Add sauteed onion and garlic to tomatoes. Boil, stirring frequently, until reduced to good sauce consistency. Stir in chopped fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper.

Cup off top of eggplant and peel. Cut about 1/4″ slices. “Fry” on cast iron pan lightly painted with olive oil at medium heat. This could be tricky. Too high, and the eggplant will burn before getting soft. Too low, and it will take forever! You just have to experiment. Keep turning them over and moving them around if you have hot spots like I do. Continue “frying”  until slices are lightly browned on both sides. Remove to a plate as soon as each slice is done. Continue until both eggplants are cooked. You should have a nice mound of slices.

You hardly need any oil with a well-seasoned pan. This isn’t an old-fashioned version, saturated with oil. The oil on the pan will keep the eggplant from sticking, but it’s actually direct heat and trapped steam that do the cooking.

Now to assemble: First spread some sauce in bottom of 9×9 baking pan. Then place eggplant slices to cover bottom of pan. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Distribute mozzarella on eggplant slices. You can go easy here, because there will be more layers of cheese. You could also sprinkle just a bit of Parmesan or Romano cheese at this point.

Ladle some sauce over all.

Repeat until pan is full or you run out of ingredients. If you have just a small quantity of ingredients left over, fill a lunch-size casserole dish with them and bring to work for a special lunch! End your layers with mozzarella cheese, then tomato sauce.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 20 minutes. Open oven and sprinkle parmesan cheese over all and bake another 10 minutes or until cheese is lightly golden.

Enjoy every bite of this! Seriously, this was the best eggplant parm we ever had – just because of the freshness!

Now what do I do with okra? Any suggestions?

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