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Oven-frying eggplant spares the fat but not the flavor

A few weeks ago, a coworker stopped by my desk and asked, "Could you use any eggplants in the Test Kitchen?"

She had plenty in her garden and didn't want them to go to waste.

Of course, I'd take them. Rarely do I pass up extra ingredients. I had no problem finding something to make with the globe beauties.

When cooked just right, eggplant has a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth hearty flavor.

I've roasted eggplant to make baba ghanoush, a Middle Eastern spread; grilled slices to place on top of pizzas or serve as a layer for a veggie sandwich; and cut slits in the flesh to stuff it with a mix of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh parsley and seasonings.

Eggplant is a fruit, although it's thought of and treated like a vegetable. It's a member of the nightshade family — like tomatoes and potatoes. I think eggplant goes unnoticed a lot because people don't know how to cook it.

With my new stash of eggplant, I opted to try a different take on the traditional eggplant Parmesan.

The basic eggplant Parmesan recipe calls for frying the slices. That, of course, adds fat and calories. But the real issue is that eggplant is like a sponge and absorbs oil quickly. Often you can end up with an oily mess. So many recipes suggest salting the eggplant — and weighting it — before frying. Doing so removes bitterness and rids it of excess moisture so it doesn't absorb much oil when you fry it.

It's not necessary to peel eggplant because the skin holds it together during cooking.

>>MODERATE

Eggplant Parmigiana Medallions

Make this dish using as many slices of eggplant as you like.

2 eggplants (about 1 pound each), washed

Kosher salt

¼ cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

2 ½ to 3 cups favorite tomato-based pasta sauce with basil

Fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, optional

6 to 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 12 slices

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup toasted bread crumbs

To prepare the eggplant: Slice off the stem end and bottom end of the eggplant. Using a serrated knife, slice each eggplant into 1 ½-inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle each slice with salt. Let set 30 minutes. Rinse the slices thoroughly and pat them dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the olive oil on a sided baking sheet and place it in the oven while the oven preheats.

Once the oven is preheated, carefully remove the baking sheet and place the eggplant slices on it.

Return to the oven and bake about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn the slices over when they are nicely brown, after about 6 to 8 minutes. Bake the slices until they are just tender, but firm enough to hold their shape. Transfer to a platter. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Arrange 6 of the largest eggplant slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Spread ¼ cup of the sauce over each slice, and, if using, sprinkle with a few shreds of basil. Top with 1 slice of the mozzarella and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons Parmesan. Top with 6 more slices of eggplant, repeating the layering.

Sprinkle toasted bread crumbs over the top.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the cheese melts and tops are lightly browned. Serve the eggplant medallions hot, warm or at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali (HarperCollins, $37.50)

Oven-frying eggplant spares the fat but not the flavor 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 3:30am]
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