It all began with a pot of gravy, leftover gravy. Leftover, leftover gravy. Meaning I made a large pot of Sunday gravy two weeks ago and froze a portion of it after dinner. I defrosted that gravy for this week’s Sunday dinner, and there was still leftover gravy. It’s not that I made soooo much gravy, it’s simply that the pasta shapes I used didn’t soak up that much gravy. The first week I had served cavatelli and the second week it was ravioli – neither shape as gravy greedy as spaghetti or fusilli.
I’m not a big fan of refreezing previously frozen gravy, or previously frozen anything, so I had approximately two or three cups of gravy to use up as soon as possible. Knowing that my family wouldn’t tolerate two days of pasta with gravy, I considered other options and quickly decided to use it for eggplant parmesan.
Why the gravy inspired this dish is bit of a mystery to me, but maybe it has something to do with the Mercury Retrograde this week. Or maybe it has to do with my brain being warped from readjusting to Annie’s return to college. I rarely make eggplant parmesan, despite how much we like it. It’s a pain in the neck to fry all of those breaded eggplant slices but, of even greater importance, nobody can make it as well as my mom. I decided to find a way around the first problem and to accept that the end result would fall short of mom’s usual greatness. Lowering one’s expectations from the start makes everything much easier.
My way around the frying problem was that I decided to bread and bake the slices instead of frying them. Immediately you know that it will be less than perfect. But I hate to deal with the messiness of frying on my stovetop. Plus, it seems wasteful to fill my electric fryer with all of that oil for one dinner, and I had no interest in going on some kind of fried food binge. At least not right after the New Year with the media preaching all of those strategies for healthy eating into our subconscious.
I began by slicing two eggplants, salting them, and leaving them in a colander to drain for a few hours. Mom slices hers much thinner, but I was looking for shortcuts and thinner slices would have required more baking time. Feel free to call me lazy.
After they had been sitting for a few hours I pressed out as much water as I could and dried them with a paper towel, then proceeded to dunk each slice, first into a bowl with two beaten eggs and then into another bowl that held a cup of panko bread crumbs to which I had added 1 teaspoon of Italian herbs and 1 cup of grated parmesan. I placed each slice onto a greased baking sheet.
I baked each sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven approximately 10 minutes, turning the slices halfway through the cooking time. This was probably the most tedious part of the job, but it still beat frying the slices and cleaning up after it.
It was almost ready for assembly, except for grating the pound of mozzarella cheese. I suppose that it was possible to be even lazier by purchasing pre-grated mozzarella, but given that I rarely enjoy the pre-grated cheese, I grated the pound of cheese needed for this recipe.
Finally, everything was layered into my baking pan – tomato sauce, followed by eggplant, more grated parmesan and the mozzarella, repeated two more times. I baked the pan in the 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
We ended up with a very good tray of eggplant parmesan, even without the lowered expectations. Mom, your eggplant will always be the winner, but I may attempt this recipe more often in the future.