A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Definitive Eggplant Parmigiana

I adore Italian food, but, with the exception of Mom and Rico's in the South End of Springfield, I don't know of any restaurant in the United States that serves it. I'm talking about the same kind of meals you get in Italy, or at the tables of first or second generation Italians in this country.

It's hard to be a vegetarian in Italy. Chefs get hurt, offended, or at the very least confused when you don't want to sample the prosciutto or Parma ham or polpette. But at least the vegetables and legumes and grains and fruits are there. Where are the fungi ripieni, the potatoes mashed with escarole, the little fried artichokes, the peaches dropped in a glass of red wine in so-called "Italian" restaurants here? I have eaten enough starchy pasta mixed with bits of broccoli and red pepper or smothered with gooey cheese sauce to last me six lifetimes. Never once, though, in Italy or in the homes of Italian-Americans I grew up with, have I been served pasta as a meal. Pasta, of course, is a primo, a first course. It's preceded by antipasto and followed by a secondo (meat or fish), a contorno (sides), and dolce (dessert) and coffee.

There's no law against two or three or four of each course, or even of occasionally compressing the sequence. If you're not going to eat meat or fish, it's hard to have a proper secondo, in any case. But a meal of nothing but a huge plateful of spaghetti would be dead last on my list of options.

Or actually, next to dead last. Restaurant-style eggplant parmigiana would have to rank below a glass of wine and no food at all, in my book. The eggplant parmigiana I grew up eating and continue to make is infinitely more delicious:

Make a simple marinara sauce by sautéeing three or four cloves of garlic, some basil, salt, and pepper in pure olive oil. Add one big can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Rinse the can with a little red wine if you have it. (This wine can be past drinking age. If it's not, you should be having a glassful as you cook.) Simmer.

Peel and slice a medium eggplant. Salting, weighting, etc. is a waste of time. Make a batter of three eggs and some Parmesan or Romano cheese and some dried basil. Dip the eggplant slices in the batter and sautée in pure olive oil. Layer in an ovenproof dish with the sauce. Bake at 350 degrees until the sauce begins to bubble, about half an hour. Can be eaten straight out of the oven, but is so much better the next day that it's almost a different dish.

A simple marinara does not need to be simmered for days on the stove. For this dish, it can be started right before preparing the eggplant. A sauce to be used for something else is best made a day ahead--but still doesn't need to cook for ages.

Notice that there's no oregano in this recipe. No mozzarella. No onions or peppers. If you can't resist jazzing up an "Italian" meal with these, or don't use pure Italian olive oil out of economy or some misguided attempt to de-calorify your dinner, you will have made something, but it won't be what I call eggplant parmigiana.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Leslie said...

Funny you should mention eggplant parmesan, especially on Sunday of all days. Lunch was planned at church after service, and I was one of the 4 ladies picked to do the honors. Chicken was on sale, so Chicken Parmenan was decided, and I, of course, said, no problem, I'll make a small casserole of Eggplant Parmesan!! Now, I did stray from Mom's recipe a tad, seeing I eat vegan, but a recent cookbook I added to my collection had a non-dairy parmesan cheese recipe, so I used it for the dipping, and was it ever good. And, of course, I went on and on and on about Mom's recipe, not adding gobs of gooey cheese, etc, etc. And I don't have San Marzano tomatoes out here in the desert, but I did use a pretty good marinan sauce anyway.
This thinking the same things is getting a little spooky, Cicily, don't you think?

11:45 AM  

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