Many years ago, there was a woman who stopped by my shop on Fishers Island to tell me that she had a dream about my eggplant parmesan that was akin to a sex fantasy. I had to laugh but she was taking the situation very seriously. She wanted to know what was in the sauce that made it so delectable and begged me to make her a tray of the dish to take home. I said, “Red wine and a pinch of sugar” was the secret as I handed over a take-out container filled with six servings of eggplant parmesan.
The truth is, a really great eggplant Parmesan, as in all good dishes, is the culmination of bringing together all of the ingredients in a way that maximizes the flavors and textures. Fresh, high quality produce and dairy is the key to this recipe…and lots of wine.
Well this woman was a fantastic customer but, as I found out later, a horrible person. She taught bible study classes in the summer while behaving badly when her husband was in the city during the week. It was after I overheard her propositioning my then husband, who I’m happy to say, turned her down, that I cut her off from my luscious, dream-inspiring eggplant parmesan.
Moral of the story, always use the finest ingredients.
Eggplant Parmesan is still one of my favorite dishes in all of its forms. I’ll admit that this adaptation is a little labor intensive. Now you can certainly make a similar version with a good quality prepared tomato sauce or use canned tomatoes instead of fresh, throw all of the sauce ingredients into a pot and let it simmer.
With the lovely summer weather and fresh farmers’ market bought produce, I felt like going for the full flavors that come from cooking on the grill. Doesn’t just about everything taste better cooked over a fire outdoors? I think so.
|Dreamy Eggplant Parmesan ~ Grilled Tomato Sauce|
- 2 small eggplants, cut in 6 slices at approximately ½ inch thick
- 8 medium tomatoes (or 1-28 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes)
- 1 red pepper
- 2 small red onions(or 1½ cup chopped onions)
- ¼ cup mixed herbs (oregano, basil, parsley)
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ -1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- A good splash of red wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Olive oil for brushing
- Salt the eggplant slices and set in colander 15-20 minutes. Rinse and dry on paper towels.
- Place the eggplant, tomatoes, onions and red pepper on a sheet pan or platter and brush everything with olive oil.
- Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
- On a hot grill, place the eggplant slices, tomatoes, onions and red pepper directly on well-oiled grates or rack.
- Cook the eggplant until it is browned on both sides and rest of the veggies until they are tender and slightly charred (see the photo above).
- Transfer from grill to a platter.
- Under cold water, remove most of the charred skin from the red pepper, core and remove seeds. Peel the outermost layer off of the onions and cut in half.
- Place the whole tomatoes, onions, red pepper and garlic into a food processor and puree.
- Put the tomato puree into a saucepan, add the wine, herbs, sugar, salt and pepper.
- Bring the sauce to a boil and then simmer until the level reduces and the sauce thickens, about 20-30 minutes (how long this takes depends on the water level of the tomatoes).
|Dreamy Eggplant Parmesan ~ filling and assembly|
- 12 slices grilled eggplant (see notes for baking or frying)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus a little extra for sprinkling.
- ¼ cup fresh chopped Italian parsley or basil
- 2-3 cups tomato sauce
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
- Salt & pepper
- Combine ricotta, egg, parsley or basil and Parmesan cheese in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large baking pan and then place 6 of the largest slices of eggplant on the sauce.
- Place a slice of mozzarella on top of each eggplant slice.
- Put a heaping tablespoon of ricotta mixture on top of the mozzarella.
- Gently place the remaining 6 slices of eggplant on top of the ricotta.
- Spoon a little bit of the sauce on the top slices of eggplant, and cover with another slice of mozzarella and a small dollop of the ricotta mixture.
- Sprinkle with a bit of grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
- Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, just until it is warmed through and the cheese is melted.
- Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.