Monday, January 18, 2010

Baked Eggplant
Isn't it amazing? Here's a lowly eggplant bought on the cheap — .60! A little creative breading courtesy of a lesson from Cook's Illustrated, and a bit of leftover marinara sauce. Abra Kadabra—two meals for one person, or a dish to serve two. Your choice.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny but I was nursing a bit of a head cold and once again felt the need for comfort food. A green smoothie, then lots of freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with acerola cherry powder was the mainstay of the morning. But as lunch time approached, the old "feed a cold; starve a fever" wisdom kicked in. What to eat?

The fridge held several possibilities. Half a quart of leftover marinara sauce was inviting. How best to use it? I'd picked up a small eggplant at the produce market earlier in the week and it was crying to be used. Its sell-by-date was fast approaching.

Some time back, I learned to bread eggplant in a manner that uses little oil and produces a crunchy-crisp result. The lesson came from watching Chris Kimball on PBS. I've done this oven roasted eggplant method many times and I love it. But when I checked the cupboard for panko or even plain bread crumbs, I came up pretty empty handed. All these months of eating mostly raw and certainly nothing fried, meant I'd not kept stock of things like bread crumbs. I did find a few tablespoons at the bottom of the panko box and another few tablespoons of mixed Italian bread crumbs, and fortuitously, I just happened to have the end of a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread. Turned out to be a winning combination. I quickly turned the bread into crumbs in the food processor and mixed the three different types of crumbs together to produce about a cup and a half of crumbs to do the job of breading the eggplant. Another example of improvising. But for ease of assembly, go the easy route, use panko crumbs.

Here's How:

Set the oven to pre-heat at 400° and place a baking sheet in the middle third of the oven. Coat the sliced eggplant, first in white whole wheat flour, then in eggwash (I used an organic, free range, Omega 3 egg - not exactly vegan!) and then in the crumb mixture. Place each breaded slice on a rack. Once that is done and the oven is hot, carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then tilt the pan to cover. The breaded slices are then placed on the hot sheet and into the oven they go for 15 minutes. Then carefully turn each slice and continue baking for another 15 minutes.

The eggplant I used produced 8 -1/2" slices. I figured they would fit comfortably in a 13 x 9 baking dish. I warmed the marinara sauce, thinning it a bit to extend it, and placed a light coating in the bottom of the baking dish. When the eggplant slices were done, I placed each in the dish. Six fit in one layer, and the remaining two sat top and center of the bottom layer, right over the spaces. The idea is not to crowd the dish keeping the crisp coating from getting soggy during the final baking.

I placed a tablespoon or so of sauce on top of each slice and then returned the dish to the hot oven for another 20 minutes. The final dish was super even without cheese. Remember, dairy is a no-no if you're seeking a healthful lifestyle. Extra sauce can be passed at the table.

Another economical meal that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor in favor of a healthy meal.

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