I never ate eggplant as a kid. Mom never made it, so for most of my life it has been somewhat of a foreign vegetable. After seeing it at the farmers market on a regular basis, I decided to purchase one and figure out what to do with it.
While browsing Pinterest a couple weeks ago, I saw a recipe for mini pizzas that used slices of zucchini for crust. I decided to see if I could do the same thing with eggplant. It seemed like a good starting point and it was. It gave me a bit of experience seeing how eggplant bakes, and I learned that it has a lot of moisture that can be cumbersome if not drained a ahead of time. I made the pizzas two ways — first in the oven and second in a frying pan. I preferred the way it came out of the oven, because it had less moisture in the end. The pizzas are simple enough to throw together on a whim, and they taste good, too. I stuck with basic toppings, but you can easily put whatever you want on them.
After getting that bit of experience under my belt, I felt ready to tackle something a little more ambitious. I had never made Eggplant Parmesan, so I decided to consult my cookbooks to see how it was done. It turns out everybody has their own version. One book called for large slices of eggplant, another called for long sticks of eggplant; one book recommended frying the eggplant in oil, and another said baking it was better because frying it made it too soggy. It sounded like each recipe had its issues, so after checking out the basic methods and ingredients, I decided to come up with my own method.
I chose to approach the eggplant like I would homemade fish sticks. I breaded it in panko, which I like because it gives foods a nice crunch, and chose to bake it in a thin layer of olive oil. It worked surprisingly well. I like a bit of heat to sauce, so I added garlic and red pepper flakes. I didn’t have mozzarella, so I went with fresh Asiago I picked up at the store, and I liked how it complemented the sauce. I’m proud of how this experiment turned out, and will definitely be making this version of Eggplant Parmesan again.
Eggplant mini pizzas
Three 1/4- to 1/3-inch slices of eggplant, drained on a paper towel for 30 to 45 minutes
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 cup grated cheese
About 12 slices of pepperoni
Put enough olive oil in the bottom of a pie pan to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with sea salt. Put the pan in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F.
Once the pan is preheated, add the eggplant slices. Cook for 5 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and turn over the eggplant slices. Spoon tomato sauce onto each slice. Top with cheese and pepperoni. Put back in oven and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Remove from the oven and serve.
2/3 of an eggplant, cut into 1-inch-wide sticks and drained in a colander or pan lined with paper towels for 1 hour or overnight
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup panko (or breadcrumbs)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic or 1 clove fresh minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup Asiago, grated or cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine flour, white pepper and salt in a resealable freezer bag. Beat the egg in a pie pan and set aside.
Put five sticks of eggplant into the resealable bag with the flour mixture, seal the bag and shake to coat. Remove and repeat with the remaining eggplant, doing about five sticks at a time. Once all the eggplant has been coated with flour, dispose of any remaining flour mixture.
Put the panko in the same resealable bag. Coat each piece of eggplant in the beaten egg and set aside. Put five sticks of eggplant into the bag of panko. Seal the bag and shake to coat the eggplant. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass pan or cookie sheet. Place the panko-covered eggplant sticks in a single layer in the pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until bottom of eggplant is slightly browned.
Meanwhile, combine the tomato sauce, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt in a small saucepan or microwavable dish and heat until hot. Set aside.
Once the eggplant has baked for 15 minutes, turn it over and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the other side of the eggplant is slightly browned. Remove eggplant from the pan. Coat the bottom of the pan evenly with half of the sauce. Put the eggplant back in the pan in a single layer. Pour remaining sauce over eggplant. Sprinkle cheeses over eggplant and return to oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
— Trisha Leonard is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Check out her blog at www.redpenrecipes.com.