Sure I sent her presents, and we talk at least 2x per day, and I see her every other month. But it’s not enough. I miss being with her on days like today. I know she misses being with her kids, too.
My dad is often the life of the party, but my mom is shy when you first meet her. Observing her surroundings, hanging in the background, taking it all in. My mom doesn’t come up to you -- you go to her. But when she’s comfortable with you, she’s the warmest, most thoughtful, generous and kind woman you’ll ever know.
She has a HUGE heart and there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for us.
She can be funny too. One of my favorite mom-isms is when she says, “Fat you can lose, ugly is forever.” So in her honor, I’m posting a beloved family recipe for eggplant parmigiana. It's not low calorie -- it's fried and it's cheesy and delicious. If you want healthy, don't bother. Eat a veggie burger instead.
Whether in Pine Brook or Del Boca Vista, we’ve made this meal together many times – it reminds me of family, love, and home. If you cook this dish with your mom, make sure Frank Sinatra plays in the background as you dance around the kitchen… Ol' Blue Eyes makes it taste better.
And now, without further ado, I give you...
If this doesn't take about 6 hours, you didn't do it right
For the fried eggplant:
- 6 medium eggplants
- Kosher salt
- 4C seasoned breadcrumbs
- Locatelli pecorino romano grated cheese
- 5-6 eggs
- 1 large brick of Polly-O whole milk mozzarella cheese
- Olive oil
- 4 cans of Tuttorosso tomato puree
- 2 cans of Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes
- 2 cans of Contadina tomato paste
- 1 package of 3-way ground beef, pork, and veal
- 1 package of sweet Italian sausage
- 1 package of braciole (super thin flank steak)
- 1 package boneless pork spare ribs
- 2 sticks of Hormel pepperoni
- 4C seasoned bread crumbs
- Locatelli pecorino romano grated cheese
- 2-3 eggs
- Polaner minced garlic
- Italian flat leaf parsley
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- The first thing you should know is that we don't measure anything. It's all by taste and by the look of it. We improvise, and so should you...
- Most people who think they don't like eggplant say it's because it's bitter and seedy. That's because it wasn't made right. To avoid that, first peel the eggplants with a vegetable peeler. Then slice them about a 1/2 inch thick. Next, find a big grill pan and start lining it with layers of sliced eggplant. After each layer, give a liberal toss of the kosher salt. Once they're all on there, top it with an upside-down sheet pan and place some cookbooks or a cast-iron pot on top to weigh it down. This is THE most important step, as it will draw out the bitterness and pack down the seeds. Liquid will accumulate in the grooves of the grill pan, so do this by the sink, so you can easily dump it. Keep it like that for about an hour.
- While your eggplant slices are busy "juicing," you can prepare the gravy (aka the red sauce). We use this gravy for eggplant, lasagna, baked ziti, chicken parm -- you name it. Pour the 6 cans of crushed and pureed tomatoes into a large pot and keep it on a back burner. Fill one empty can about halfway with water and swirl it around to get all the bits off the bottom and the sides. Pour that water from can to can, until you've got it all. Then dump that tomatoey water into the pot too. For thinner gravy, add a little more water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring it up to a boil then reduce to low, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from burning.
- Since the pepperoni is already cooked, cut it into chunks, about 3-4 inches long, and put them in the gravy. They will plump up and absorb the tomato sauce while cooking to become the most delicious pepperoni you ever had.
- Next it's time to deal with the uncooked meats. We don't put uncooked meats into the gravy. That's a big no-no. So fill a pan about a 1/2 inch deep with olive oil. Don't use extra virgin here, it's a waste. Any brand of regular is fine, go with what's on sale because you'll use a lot of it. The sausage and boneless ribs can cook just as they are, from the package right into the oil, on medium heat. Turn them often to brown on all sides and use tongs so you don't lose all the juices in the sausage. Once they're cooked, set them aside until all the meats are ready to take a soak in the gravy.
- Now, it's meatball time. If you have an issue with veal or pork, you can just use all ground beef. Put the meat in a large bowl. Sprinkle on some grated cheese and breadcrumbs, add some chopped parsley, salt, pepper, and 2 of the eggs. Then stick your hands in there and mush it all together. This is the part I like the least, so my mom does it. Make sure you take your jewelry off! If the meat feels dry, add another egg. If it's too moist, add more cheese and breadcrumbs. Form them into balls and pop them into the olive oil for frying on a medium heat. Keep adding oil as needed, and set aside the cooked meatballs.
- Last up for the meats is the braciole. Take the thin flank steak and spread it with the minced garlic, then sprinkle grated cheese, and more chopped parsley. Cut the meat into slices and roll each slice up. Tie the rolls at each end with kitchen string or butcher's twine, like a little bundle, to keep all the filling inside. Then, pop those into the oil too, turning until browned, and set aside once cooked. Keep the strings on for now, but remember to take them off when it's time to eat!
- Once all the meat is done, we make the roux. This is NOT the traditional white flour and butter mixture, but it IS still used for thickening. And it's key to the flavor and texture of the gravy. Take the pan you used to cook the meats, and add 1 can of tomato paste and a handful of grated cheese. Stir this around on medium/high heat, to help incorporate what's left of the cooked oil and meat drippings into the tomato paste. Add more tomato paste and cheese until all the liquids are fully absorbed. Keep stirring this thick paste constantly until it starts turning a bit darker. When it's done, add the roux to the gravy pot. While you're at it add about a spoonful of garlic, too. More or less, if you like.
- Now it's time to get the meats into the gravy pot. Stir it one last time before adding the meat, because it will be difficult to stir afterwards. Cut the sausages to allow the juices to run into the gravy, then add this and the rest of the meats to the pot. The pepperoni should already be looking plumper by now, from sitting in the gravy all this time. If it's getting crowded, use 2 gravy pots! But keep a mix of the meats in each, and keep the heat on low.
- Tired yet? If so, you can do the whole meat & gravy piece the day before and just keep it in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the eggplant parm.
- Ok, back to the eggplant. By now, all the bitterness will be gone and it's time to fry those babies up. Grab 2 shallow bowls and a plate. In the first bowl, crack a couple eggs and stir them around until the whites and the yolks are incorporated. In the second bowl, add the seasoned breadcrumbs and stir in some grated cheese. First dip each piece of sliced eggplant in the egg, then toss them in the breadcrumb mix, and set them aside on the plate, fully coated. Keep doing that until you're done, adding more egg or breadcrumbs/cheese to the bowls whenever needed.
- Fill a new pan with oil, about 1/4 an inch high, and start frying the eggplant. Flip them to cook on both sides, use a fork or tongs, but be careful not to pull the breading off. Use 2 pans to move things along more quickly, if you want. Keep an eye on them, they don't take too long to cook. When browned on both sides, put the fried eggplant on a dish or tray lined with paper towels to soak up any excess olive oil. (And munch on a few, just to make sure they're good.)
- Go back to the gravy pot(s). By now, the meats have had a good long soak. Pull out all the meat, and a little gravy to keep the meats from drying out, into an oven-safe dish so it's easy to heat up. Having the meat out of the way will make it easier to ladle the gravy.
- The time has FINALLY come to assemble everything. Grab a Pyrex baking dish. Really any size works, you could use 2 small square dishes, or 1 large rectangular one. Now's also a good time to grate the mozzarella cheese. You'll be tempted to use a bag of the pre-shredded cheese, but it's worth shredding it yourself because it melts so much better.
- Pour a few ladles of gravy into the baking dish and spread it around to coat the whole bottom. Then start a layer of eggplant slices. It's better to overlap if they don't fit exactly, than to leave gaps. Top that with a good sprinkling of the shredded mozzarella. Top that with a few more ladles of gravy. Keep going, layer by layer, until you reach the top. For the top layer, do it in reverse, first gravy, then cheese -- make sure the gravy covers everything, then sprinkle a little mozzarella and grated pecorino romano across the top as a finishing touch.
- Bake all of this in a 350 degree pre-heated oven. Everything is already cooked, but you want the flavors to blend and the cheeses to melt. It will take about 30 minutes or so until the sides start to bubble and brown. Then you know it's done.
- It's super easy (by comparison) to serve this up with some baked ziti, or even plain macaroni in gravy, but it also stands on its own. Serve the meats on the side with a nice salad and some bread.
- By now, everyone in the house will be bugging you to ask when dinner will be done. Make them set the table to feel like they are helping. If you can stand it, let the eggplant cool for a few minutes before slicing and it will come out more easily. If not, just dig in, your stomach won't know the difference.
- Keep in mind, as good as this tastes now, it gets even better as left-overs the next day.
I know this sounds like a lot of work -- and it is -- but it's worth it. This is probably the first time this recipe has been written down, and certainly the first time it's ever been posted to the Internet. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
To my mom, my sister-in-law, my college roommates, and all the other great moms reading this, Happy Mother's Day! May you always have an eggplant parm in the oven, a table full of loved ones, and someone ELSE to wash the dishes!
tags: family, food, holidays