Friday, February 13, 2009

Of Climate and Change

I just went to Medicine Grand Rounds this week on the health effects of climate change. The upshot? Cows produce a lot of methane. (I know, I know. You thought this was a cooking blog! Just be patient.) Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases worsen global warming. Then, well, you know the rest: more tsunamis, more Katrinas, rising oceans, spread of tropical disease, etc.

The equation is simple: eat less meat, OR ELSE. (Michael Pollan would approve.) Veggies are best, fish is good, chicken is bad, red meat is worse. We must limit consumption of red meat, for the health of individuals (B's family has a history of heart disease) and of the environment and of future generations.

Today I offer a recipe in a vegetarian vein. (Technically, cheese also comes from cows and we should limit consumption of it as well, but this is a much more difficult step for me as I adore all forms of cheese, especially in this recipe.) Eggplant Parmesan is such an overdone dish that it took me years to try this recipe I ripped out of the Times Sunday Magazine. Eggplant Parm is on the menu of every second-rate Italian restaurant, and it's usually soggy and bland and cliched; it's something for the vegetarians in a group to order but does not promise anything other than the absence of meat. Notably, I have no great fondness for chicken parm either.

This eggplant Parm is different. It showcases each of the typical ingredients in a new way. And what an ingredient list! Eggplant and marinara and mozzarella and Parm and ricotta; truly, some of Italy's greatest hits. The dish is lively with acid and full of cheese (three types!) and as colorful as the Italian flag. You do have to start a little ahead of time with this one; I'm not usually one to release the bad humors from eggplant by salting and wiping, but this step ends up being crucial for the texture of the final rounds. Then give the rounds a quick dip in egg and panko, fry, and pop them into the oven with the cheese and sauce. Fresh basil leaves make a beautiful and tasty garnish.

It may not surprise you to learn that B asks for these "eggies" almost as frequently as he asks for enchies. Whether you make them as penance for a red meat meal the night before (a sort of carbon credit, I suppose) or whether you're already a committed vegetarian, enjoy!

Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from The New York Times Magazine, April 2003

Serves: 4 as a main course or 6-8 as an appetizer
Time: 30 min active, 1 hour total

2 large Italian eggplants
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. dried oregano
2 eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 c. olive oil
1 ball (about 1 pound) fresh mozzarella
1 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves, for garnish

For the marinara sauce:
1 T. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 t. salt
1 t. dried oregano

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Use a 2.5-3 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the center of each round, and discard the skin. Lay rounds out on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt. Let eggplants sweat for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

Meanwhile, make the marinara sauce. In a 1.5 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Add the tomatoes with the juice (carefully, as the oil can spatter), salt, and oregano, and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until slightly reduced. Blend to desired consistency.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour and dried oregano, salt and pepper on a plate. Make egg wash by adding 1 tablespoon water to the eggs and beating with a fork in a small bowl. Spread bread crumbs on a separate plate. Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat until the surface ripples. Dust each eggplant rounds with the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Dip into the egg, drain off excess and then coat with the bread crumbs. Shake off excess crumbs and fry until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Drain on paper towels and repeat, using more oil as needed. Depending on the size of your frying pan, this will take 2 or 3 cycles.

Slice the mozzarella into 1/4 inch pieces. Top each eggplant round with mozzarella. Mix the ricotta and Parmesan. Spread a tablespoon or so of ricotta mixture on top of each round and then cover with a tablespoonful of the marinara sauce. Bake until the mozzarella melts and is slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

1 comment:

  1. Looks delicious. But does Brian really request these as often as he requests the enchiladas?