Eating/Reading‘s Mary Rizzo: It’s astoundingly easy to romanticize the intersection between food and family, to forget that in a traditional family like mine, cooking is labor fraught with anxiety. When we say that food is love, we don’t speak the corollary: what happens if the food is bad? This anxiety often haunts my mother’s cooking, even though she’s a great cook. Of course, if you say that to her, she would say that she’s been doing it for so long that she’s made all the mistakes already. And then she would list all the things she thinks she can’t do well: make bread, bake cakes and donuts. Donuts?! Don’t even mention “The Donuts.” Lead balls. Even if you did, next time you came over, your favorite treat would be waiting for you, and you would feel a little bit warmer inside at the knowledge that someone cared this much.
That’s where the eggplant parmigiana came in. In my memory, it wasn’t a dish she cooked when I was a child. If I had to guess, my made began making this for me after I became a vegetarian in college, a choice that completely threw my mother into chaos. Never mind that I ate seafood or that the pasta aglia olio that she made was still fit for my consumption. To my mother, a meal means meat. So she would try, year after year, to sneak a chicken into my diet. But the eggplant parmigiana satisfied her desire to make me a full meal and satisfied my desire for comfort food. If you make this recipe, be prepared. It takes a long time, a lot of care and patience. The results are astonishing. The eggplant becomes creamy, the cheese a salty complement. The sauce is plain, but perfect for sopping up with crusty bread. The top is toasty and warm. If I ever get sent to death row, believe me, my last meal will be my mother’s eggplant parmigiana. On a more mundane level, she would make this for me every time I came home to visit during graduate school, and I ate it knowing that it symbolized her caring and her hard work. Enjoy my mom’s Eggplant Parmigiana!
Eating/Reading’s Mary’s Mom’s Eggplant Parmigiana
- 1 fresh eggplants with minimal seeds
- black pepper
- Parmesan cheese
- 1 jar tomato sauce (any kind, not too think, as it will thicken naturally as it bakes)
- fresh mozarella cheese
- 6 eggs
- breadcrumbs (Don’t be fancy. Progresso breadcrumbs have been used at the Rizzo house without shame for decades.)
- olive oil
- Buy a fresh eggplant without a lot of seeds inside. To do so, find an eggplant with a wide bottom with a bigger circle on it; the skin should be shiny and firm with NO mushy spots, about medium sized (1-1 ½ pounds);
- My mother slices hers longwise, not crosswise; she also peels her eggplant first. Cut slices evenly and no more than 1/4 in thick. Once they’re cut, put a little salt and pepper on the slices. She never soaks it in salt, if you get a fresh one you shouldn’t have to.
- Put flour in a shallow dish and add a little salt and pepper to taste. In another shallow dish, beat about 6 eggs with about 3 tablespoons cold water to thin and a little salt and pepper. In another shallow dish, pour about 2 cups of flavored breadcrumbs. Amp up the seasoning by adding a couple handfuls of Parmesan cheese.
- The breading process: Dip eggplant slice in flour; then shake off excess; then dip both sides in egg and let whatever drips off drip off; then dredge in the breadcrumbs on both sides. Do this for each slice and set aside.
- The frying: Medium high heat for the oil. (Make sure it’s nice and hot before you put the slices in, or they’ll be soggy. Test it with a bit of breadcrumb. If the oil sizzles when the breadcrumb is dropped in and it floats to the top, it’s ready.) Fry each slice until golden brown, then drain on a paper towel.
- Once all slices are fried, grab an oiled casserole dish. Layer some tomato sauce of your choice on the bottom, then arrange the eggplant slices so they cover it as best as possible. Sprinkle sliced or grated mozzarella cheese and Parmesan onto the slices. Continue layering with sauce, eggplant, and cheese.
- Bake it for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Put foil on top, and make slits to let the steam out.
- Let rest for 15 min before serving. Then, eat up! Enjoy!