Eggplant parmesan or any dish including eggplant was one of the most eagerly anticipated meals in our old-school Sicilian household. The preparation of the eggplant was a familiar ritual.
First, my mother and my grandmother only used the traditional purple melanzane. No fancy eggplants for them! After washing, eggplant was always sliced thinly.
And then, the ritual, which I continue to this day. A flat plate is lined with paper towel and the first layer of slices is positioned, then salted. The salt is necessary to draw out eggplant’s natural bitterness, of course.
You’re probably wondering where the photos of this are. So am I–I thought I took them, but apparently, I didn’t.
A paper towel tops the first layer of eggplant and the process is repeated. Once all the eggplant slices have been salted and positioned between paper towels, heavy cans are used to press the eggplant and expel the bitter “juices.”
My mom and grandmother used big tomato cans, but I used what I had in the pantry, which happened to be broth and stock packages. The weight has to be heavy enough to press the eggplant well, and it’s left in place for several hours.
Eggplant is only cooked AFTER this process. It’s a requirement that every girl of Sicilian descent learns by simply watching what happens in the family kitchens.
Sauteing and frying in liberal amounts of olive oil were the preferred eggplant cooking methods in my mother’s home, and I do that sometimes. This day, however, I brushed them with olive oil and then baked the eggplant slices in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes per side. My eggplant turns out far less oily than my mother and grandmother’s method. Although I must say they fixed delicious eggplant, and any time I visited they’d make it for me, knowing it was my favorite. Oh, how I miss them!
While eggplant baked, I prepared the rest of the meal: vegetarian spaghetti sauce, using the ingredients of the week’s organic box.
This time, I had beautiful little peppers that I sliced thinly and sauteed with slices of fresh organic garlic and onion that also came in our box. Tomato sauce was already on hand, so I simply added the vegetables to the sauce and heated the whole thing up. I boiled our favorite pasta–whole wheat spaghetti–and a tasty one-dish meal was ready in short order.
Tomato sauce freezes beautifully and it’s nice to have a batch in the freezer. So do sauteed onions and peppers.
Earlier in the summer we received an abundance of tomatoes–way too many to eat or give away. They’re now in my freezer, and when fall comes I’ll start making spaghetti sauce to enjoy during winter. Of course, in our household, Italian food is enjoyed every season, any day and as many consecutive days as we want. It’s a staple.
And so is this vegetarian pasta.