Last week my parents came over for a vegetarian dinner of eggplant parm and shaved asparagus salad. I really liked the technique I read in Cooks Illustrated because it didn't allow the eggplant to soak up so much oil and left it with a crunchy outer coating. You start by tossing slices of eggplant with salt and placing them over a collander for 30-45 minutes to drain. When a fair amount of liquid has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl remove the eggplant and pat/squeeze completely dry between two layers of paper towels. Then, working in batches, toss the slices in a large plastic bag with seasoned flour, shake off the excess, dip in an eggwash, and then coat each side with homemade bread crumbs seasoned with lots of grated parmiggiano reggiano. Put them on a wire rack over a cookie sheet (to catch loose crumbs) so the bottoms don't get soggy. While doing this, have two sheet pans preheating in a 425 degree oven. Remove the sheet pans when you have finished all the eggplant slices and spread a few tablespoons of vegetable oil evenly on each (olive oil has a lower smoking point and can't hold up to the high cooking temperature). Place the eggplant in one layer on each pan, and bake for about thirty minutes (switch placement of the sheet pans after 10 minutes and flip eggplant slices after 20). This method gave the eggplant a fantastic crunch and made it much healthier. When you take the egglant slices out of the oven you layer them in casserole with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, starting with your sauce at the bottom (this can be made very simply by simmering crushed San Marzano tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper for about 45 minutes). When you get to the top layer of eggplant, just put a little bit of sauce in the middle of each round so that you still have some of the crunchy coating exposed when you put it back in the oven to melt the cheese. If I hadn't slightly oversalted my sauce it would have been near perfect, but it was still really good.
For the salad, I shaved raw asparagus with a vegetable peeler and tossed it with halved baby tomoatoes, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. This was really easy and made for a great 'almost summer' salad. I used purple asparagus since it was available, which emphasized the individual ribbons by adding another hint of color.
Dessert was a tasting platter of Biscoff cookies, leftover carrot cake, apple slices, and peanut M&M's.
Tonight's Food Rating: 8