Mom’s (and mine) Eggplant Parmigiana

So I mentioned that I would help you use up that marinara sauce from last Sunday, and eggplant parmigiana is perfect for that.  Actually, anything parmigiana would do, such as chicken cutlet or veal cutlet.  But today it is “eggplant parm,” as we call it in New Jersey.

This truly is one of my favorite old time recipes.  I loved it as a child, and I love it still.  Growing up we were allowed to pick our favorite meal to be made on our birthday, and mine was always eggplant parmigiana with spaghetti on the side.  Funnily enough, it also became my daughter’s birthday meal.  My mom always prepared this dish with love every birthday, and the entire family would be so happy,  until several years ago, when she began to suffer from dementia and stopped cooking completely.  The first time it was my eggplant parm instead of hers was very sad for us all.  Thank goodness my sister, my daughter and I were smart enough to have made this recipe with her over and over, watching how she assembled all the ingredients, just so, in order to get the magnificent taste that was hers. If you have some family recipes that you want to carry on for generations, I strongly urge you to watch and learn from the woman whose memory (and recipe) you are trying to preserve.  When she is gone, you will bite into a piece of memorabilia each time you prepare it, that will warm your heart and soul.  Maybe even a tear will well up in your eye as you remember her and life as it was then, when things seemed so simple.

There are only four main ingredients in this dish, but it always tastes different, unique to the person who makes it.  How can this be possible? The best that I figure is that it is all in the particular way these four ingredients are handled.  The marinara sauce is definitely unique to the person who makes it.  Crazy as it may seem, the direction in which the eggplant is cut, and the thickness, has an effect on the taste.  Is the mozzarella sliced or shredded?  This also makes a difference.  And lastly, the amount of grated parmesan cheese greatly effects the sharpness of the dish.   As I said, it took several years of watching and fiddling with these ingredients to duplicate the taste of my mom’s.  I mastered it and want to share it with you now.

But before I give out the recipe, I must tell you about a shortcut that certainly helps now that life is so much busier for woman.  Even my mom started using this shortcut as she got older, as it lessons the work involved, but does not alter the taste one bit.  In recent years, some Italian delis/markets have started selling the eggplant slices, already fried.  If you buy this (not cheap), all you have to do is assemble the ingredients.  While I don’t always do this, it has changed this dish from a once a year treat, to a regular meal for company or family.  I have to resist making it too often, as I still want it to be a special birthday meal for my daughter.

                                                          EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

2 large eggplants,  sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
2  to 3 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
2 eight ounce mozzarellas, sliced
grated parmesan cheese
3 cups (or so) marinara sauce

If you are going to fry the eggplant yourself, you will need to slice it and prepare to fry.  Every cook and cookbook around will tell you that you must put the sliced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  They then say to leave it for 30 minutes or so, then rinse and pat dry.  I have never done this and neither has my mother.  So I just slice the eggplant, dip it into the flour (which I do add some salt and pepper to), then into the egg and then fry until golden brown.  You must drain it on paper towels.

When all the eggplant is fried….or you are back from the deli……it is time to assemble.

On the bottom of a 9 by 13 (or so) pyrex or roasting pan,  spoon plenty of that delicious marinara sauce, covering the bottom thinly.  Next, place a layer of eggplant, overlapping the slices slightly, to cover the sauce.  Now, more sauce, thinly spread on top of the eggplant.  Next place the mozzarella slices….definitely not overlapping…there should be some space between inch or so at least.  Now a generous sprinkle of grated cheese, but do not overpower with this ingredient. Repeat the layers…eggplant, sauce, mozzarella, grated cheese until you have used up all the eggplant, ending with the grated cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Take the foil off and cook for 15 minutes more.  Take out of oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

This is spectacular when served with spaghetti (of course with the same marinara sauce) on the side.

Happy birthday!!

Have a “birthday meal” to share?  Would love to hear it.  Just post in Comments and we can all enjoy.

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