Saturday, January 29, 2011

Give Eggplant Parmesan a Chinese spin

Almost two years ago I tried my hand at Eggplant Parmesan for the first time, and I'm not going to say it was a disaster, but considering that I haven't tried it since, you can be sure it wasn't a very fulfilling experience.

But after making P.F. Mai Ling's Spicy Eggplant with Chicken a couple too many times in a row, I decided to give Eggplant Parmesan another try so I could expand my eggplant repertoire to more than one dish.

In addition to expanding my eggplant repertoire, I'm also expanding my eggplant usage, this time using Chinese eggplant instead of the bigger, darker eggplant you find in typical grocery stores. In addition to having thinner skin, which I'm not sure makes a difference, Chinese eggplant also offers a little more flexibility with how the dish is made.

Last time I followed the recipe perfectly and cut the eggplant into rounds, which resulted in a lot more pieces to fry and a somewhat difficult dish to serve. But because the Chinese eggplant are so much smaller, I cut each eggplant into four long slices lengthwise, each about 1/3-inch thick. They barely fit on the plates I used for all of the coatings, so the kitchen was still a disaster. But because the slices fit perfectly in my 10-by-14-inch Le Creuset, the dish turned out much more beautiful and way easier to cook, serve and eat. Worth the work for sure this time!

This recipe is adapted from Gourmet's Eggplant Parmesan.

Chinese Eggplant Parmesan
2 lbs. Chinese eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes
2 14-oz. cans Italian-style stewed tomatoes
3 T. olive oil plus more for frying
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 t. dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups panko
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 lb. chilled fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Place the eggplant on racks hanging over the sink and sprinkle both sides with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.

Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until moderately chunky. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, add 3 T. olive oil, then stir in garlic and dried pepper flakes and cook until fragrant but not burnt, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. black pepper, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set up your work station. On one large plate, mix flour with 1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. black pepper. On a second, mix the four eggs. And on a third plate, mix the panko with 1/3 c. Parmesan.

Prepare a cookie sheet with paper towels for the eggplant. Heat about 1/2 inch of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), dredge each eggplant slice in the flour, then coat with egg, and lastly cover with the panko mixture. Place about 3 prepared eggplant slices in the skillet at a time and cook each side until browned, about 6 minutes per batch.

Transfer cooked eggplant to prepared cookie sheet and continue until all eggplant is cooked.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. To assemble, place 1 c. of sauce on the bottom of a 10-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer with 1/3 of the eggplant, 1/3 of the sauce and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Repeat twice, then top with remaining 1/3 c. Parmesan.

Cook uncovered for 35-40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and cheese is golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. It will be piping hot!

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