Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cooking Up the Produce

Remember all that produce I bought last week?  As of last night, I still had several tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers and an eggplant, which I couldn't let go to waste.  I didn't have much time to make dinner, so I got out pork chops for the hubmeister to grill, and I prepared a tomato, cucumber and Vidalia onion salad.   Hubmeister doesn't care much for eggplant but he likes stuff fried, so I marched to the bookshelves and pulled out Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. 

Nobody makes eggplant like the Italians, and she has the best eggplant Parmesan recipe going, in my humble opinion.  That's another post.  In her book, fried eggplant is the entry before that extraordinary Parmesan recipe, and fried eggplant sounded good. 

On to the recipe.  She said you should peel the eggplant first, and why question Marcella, but, of course, I took a shortcut and left the skin on.  I got the oil piping hot in my electric skillet, cranking it up all the way to 450 degrees, then dropped in a couple of slices at a time.  A few minutes later, they were golden and draining on  paper towels.  Hubmeister asked me if we were going to dip them in ranch dressing.  No!  There was no dipping them anyway because they were too tender.  I think I would have liked these better if I had breaded them in seasoned bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, which, I later discovered, is actually a variation of Marcella's recipe for breaded eggplant cutlets.  Breading them would have added a crispy element and additional flavor.

One thing I noticed about Marcella's eggplant recipes is that she often slices the eggplant lengthwise, and then salts the pieces, allowing the liquid to drain off for about 30 minutes before patting them dry and frying them. This is what she calls purging the eggplant of its harshness. 

Why no skin?  It is stringy, bitter and generally unpleasant, but it slipped right off.   Eggplant is so spongelike that I don't know how you could fry it and not have a somewhat greasy result, but surely Marcella could convince me otherwise, and I erred somehow in following her recipe.   I was spared a loathing moment because this dish was still edible.   Hubmeister snuck some creamy dressing onto his portion.

Enough about the eggplant.  I feel I owe you a recipe that I like, and it's the tomato salad.  This takes 10 minutes to prepare and is a delicious way to use those summer tomatoes adorning your kitchen counter.

Tomato, Vidalia Onion and Cucumber Salad
(Inspired by Tomatoes Lutece in Gulfshore Delights)

8 ripe tomatoes, cut in eighths
1 Vidalia onion, sliced thin
1-2 cucumbers, sliced down the middle and then sliced in half moons
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped

For the dressing:
1/4 C olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
2 tsp. prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine tomatoes, onion, cucumber and parsley.  Mix dressing ingredients with a whisk and pour over tomatoes.  Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.


  1. I've discovered with eggplant that you have to slice it, peeled or unpeeled, then salt (with kosher salt preferably) and place in layers in a colander (for about an hour) over a bowl or cookie sheet to catch all the liquid that comes out of the eggplant. Then rinse the slices and pat very dry. The bitterness is now gone and at that point it's ready for the fry pan and doesn't come out as greasy.

  2. But for those who are drawn to that bitter flavor, the eggplant sub at the Cheesecake Factory is the sandwich for you b/c they leave the skin on.

  3. For fried eggplant lovers who also are calorie watchers, here's a handy trick:
    1. Slice the eggplant (maximum 1/4" thick)
    **Skin, no skin--I'll leave it up to you
    2. Dip the slices in a blend of skim milk and egg whites.
    3. In a bowl, combine Italian bread crumbs (to which I add extra garlic powder and red pepper flakes).
    4. Lightly coat the eggplant slices in the crumb mixture.
    5. Line a large cookie sheet with foil, and spray with non-stick spray (olive oil type, if you have it).
    6. Arrange the slices on the cookie sheet, spraying tops of slices, as well.
    7. Bake in a 350-degree oven until golden brown. You want to let them get crispy. Check them after about 20 minutes; you may want to turn them over.

    This is an easy, light way to enjoy an Italian favorite. Fantastic diped in marinara. Mangia bene!


    Delete my intruction for 1/4" thick slices (this would be much too thin).

    Make that 1/2" slices.

    Buon giorno!