Eggplant Parm with Catch Me If You Can Cheese

My next recipe comes from Sicilian Cookery and you could say it is a variation of eggplant Parmesan with a substitute of a cheese called caciocavallo which is a native cheese of Southern Italy.

The quest to find caciocavallo was the hardest part of making this dish and finding it caused a bit of a hiatus for my cooking goals. My first attempt to buy this cheese was at a specialty cheese shop where they just happened to run out the previous day. They ordered it again, but by the time I got there it was sold out. I had no idea this cheese was so popular. I decided to go to Whole Foods after that and ended up empty handed, thankfully Bristol Farms had some. I must have been lucky that day, because I looked for it again out of curiosity after making this recipe and it was M.I.A. in the cheese section.

Hopefully you’ll have better luck with that than I did.

What you’ll need

  • 3 eggplants
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes
  • 4 oz or 1/4 pound of caciocavallo cheese
  • 2 oz or 1/2 cup of grated cheese
  • 4 or 5 basil leaves

The first step is to prepare the eggplants by cutting them lengthwise into sections as evenly as possible. Then you will cut slits into the fleshy part of the eggplant and soak in salted water for ten minutes.

I wanted to look up the physics as to why salting and soaking is necessary for eggplants and ended up finding this useful article from the LA Times. According to Russ Parsons, it only makes a difference to salt if you are frying. He also feels for there to be a true impact, the soaking should take place for at least 60 minutes.

I have to say, I think Russ is on to something, because when I’ve salted eggplant for only ten minutes, it didn’t do much at all.

Whatever you decide, once you’ve soaked the eggplant, you will pat dry and then allow it to cool. While it is cooling, you can prepare the tomato sauce that will eventually go on top of our eggplant concotion.

To make the sauce, the first step is to prepare the tomatoes by skinning and chopping them. If you don’t recall the proper way to do this, what you need to do is cut x’s into the top of the tomato and then boil them for about a minute. Throw those boiled tomatoes on some ice and then the skin should peel off.  After that, you cut and set aside.

The next step for the sauce is to fry two whole cloves of garlic in oil. Remove the cloves once they’ve been sufficiently fried. I love garlic and didn’t want to remove them, but leaving fried garlic in sauce can make the sauce bitter. If you want to keep the garlic anyway, I suggest mincing the garlic and lightly frying. My mother always told me the longer you let a garlic fry, the more sugar you have to add later to sweeten the bitterness.

Food is like people sometimes.

Once the garlic is ready, whether you keep or discard, the next step is to add those chopped tomatoes. Do so and cook for 5-10 minutes while stirring and sprinkling basil, salt, and pepper to taste.

As the sauce cooks, cut the garlic and caciocavallo into pieces that will fit in the slits you made for the eggplant pieces.

Once the slits are stuffed, sprinkle with some basil and then top them off with tomato sauce. As long as the sauce is cooked, of course.

The final touch will be to sprinkle with grated cheese and oil and bake for 30 minutes on the 350 setting of an oven.

Once your time is up, you’ll have a tasty alternative version to eggplant Parmesan.

My final result turned out well enough. I prefer Parmesan when it comes to eggplant. Caciocavallo is a bitter and harder cheese than Parmesan. I feel it doesn’t compliment the eggplant in a way that I like. I prefer the delicious gooey texture of melted Parmesan that pulls apart like string cheese.

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Mmmm, string cheese

Have I mentioned that I love cheese lately? It’s important to tell the people things you love that you love them everyday. The little things count in this troubled world and the comfort of cheese is getting me through these troubling times every day.

Back to this dish, though. It was an enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t beat Parmesan for me and it’s not worth the effort and hunt to use caciocavallo, in my opinion. If you’re adventurous, definitely try it out. Life is too short to not try new things.

 

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana aka Eggplant Parmesan

Here’s another Sicilian recipe from Sicilian Cookery. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite Italian dishes, so I was excited to make this.

I do have to warn the dear readers that eggplant is a fussy one-eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater. Wait. That’s something else….

Ok, so maybe it doesn’t fly and eat people, but it is purple, you could say it has one horn, and trust me when I tell you that it can be a difficult vegetable to cook.

I was going to seguue a joke about eggplant emojis, but I just found out Prince died. It just doesn’t seem right to do now. I mean Prince is not an eggplant emoji, but when it comes to purple beings you can’t deny that he reigns them all.

What would Prince have to say about all of this? I wonder if he enjoyed eggplant? I have a feeling he did. I mean it’s his favorite color and based on that pancake skit from Chapelle Show I have a feeling the man liked to cook.

So, Prince, I dedicate this purple recipe to you.

Here’s what you need for your Prince Eggplant Parm

  • 5 eggplants
  • 2 pounds of tomatoes
  • 1 pound of onion
  • 6 oz of Primosale cheese
  • 1 cup of grated cheese
  • basil
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Eggplant is kind of princess and needs special treatment, so the first step is to give it a nice salt water spa bath for 30 minutes.

Drain, rinse, and pat your princess dry and then fry her in some hot oil.

If you are like me and was never taught how to fry food, then you might need some help here. Even if you were taught how to fry food, eggplant can be troublesome. Eggplant soaks up oil like a succubus and that makes monitoring the frying process extremely difficult.

Soaking the eggplant in salt water is supposed to prevent the mass soaking of the oil, but in my case I soaked and that purple succubus still managed to suck my oil dry.

The internet tells me that larger eggplants seem to be more likely to do this, so I can deduce that if you have a larger variety then extending the soak to an hour will reduce the effect.

If you find that during the frying process that it’s still greasy and oily, my best advice is to blot out the oil with a paper towel as much as possible.

The time it takes to fry eggplant can take up to ten minutes. Again the internet told me this. I enjoy this cookbook, because it is authentic Sicilian food, but it’s not the best teaching tool for cooking. They leave out a lot of details like how long to fry the eggplant.

Since it does take ten minutes to fry, feel free to start cooking your sauce. Again, the cookbook doesn’t give you too many details about how to do this. All it says is “make some tomato sauce with plenty of basil.”

Yeah. I know.

Thankfully I was taught how to make my own sauce. So when I read that, I knew what to do. I’m going to assume that my readers might not though, so here is how you do that.

The first step is to cut an x on the top of your tomatoes listed above. Boil those tomatoes until the skin starts to peel. Once that happens, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water or place on a bed of ice. Ice is more ideal by the way. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel them and then cut into cubes. Place the tomato chunks in a pan and then cook until it resembles a sauce.

Feel free to add your favorite spices to the sauce as well. I stuck with just the basil because of the cookbook, but I ended up adding oregano and garlic later.

When the eggplant is fried and the sauce is cooked, you will bake. Oil a pan of your choice and place a layer of eggplant on it. Cover that layer with sauce and a layer of cheese. Continue this layering until everything has been used up.

Drizzle the top layer with oil and then bake for 15 minutes.

The final result is a simple eggplant Parmesan recipe that you can use as a base and later add your own personal preferences to it.

I, for example, doctored up my leftovers by adding different spices to my sauce and eating it with a side of spaghetti.

My initial tasting of this did disappoint me. This was because I didn’t properly fry my eggplant. It was greasy, spongy, and oily.

My leftovers were much better than my initial tasting thankfully. I think this was mostly because when I re-heated the eggplant it somehow diminished the oily, spongy texture.  The tweeks I made to the sauce also helped.

Anyway, I’d love to make this again but I’d probably be lazy and buy a jar of sauce and use mozzarella for some layers to give it more of a gooey stringy cheese texture.

So, so good, that gooey stringy cheese taste.

Fennel Threesome with Arugula and Parmesan

My next recipe hails from Classic Pasta at Home and is an arugula salad with fennel and Parmesan. I love arugula and Parmesan. I can’t place how I feel about fennel though. I don’t hate it, but I don’t really like it either. It reminds me of people in my life who have never done anything spiteful or mean towards me, but for whatever reason I feel like something is off anyway. It’s a bizarre area of ambiguity that I am not a fan of.

Fennel is similar in that regard. I mean it’s healthy, so I feel like I should like it. It has a slight licorice taste to it, which means it’s not too bitter or sweet. I’ve liked it on certain pizzas and pastas I’ve had in the past, but I think that’s because it was just kind of there. It wasn’t really asserting itself in any way.

In this salad, Mr. Fennel was asserting himself big time and I decided I didn’t like fennel any more. He was being a little pushy. I enjoyed the arugula and Parmesan though, despite the cookbook calling arugula nutty. I always considered arugula to be just a little eccentric.

Anyway, to make your pushy arugula and fennel salad you will need 1 fennel bulb, 1/2 pound of rocket arugula, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 minced shallot, salt, pepper, and 2 oz of Parmesan cheese.

The first step is to slice your fennel. To do so, remove the stems and stalks. You will only be utilizing the bulb. You’ll also want to rinse the fennel. It gets a little dirty. I’m guessing from pushing itself onto everyone like the floozy fennel it is. Once you’ve rid your fennel of disease, you will cut it in half and thinly slice crosswise. When this is done, place the fennel in a large salad bowl with the arugula.

While the fennel and arugula are getting to know each other, you can make the dressing. Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and shallot in a small bowl to do so. If desired, you can also add salt and pepper to this. Either way, you are going to add this whisk mixture to the dance party in your large salad bowl. Toss that salad, because floozy fennel likes it and add more lemon juice if you think it’s needed as well.

Once fennel seems satisfied you can bring yourself to the party, provided you bring some shaved Parmesan with you. Fennel won’t have it any other way and arugula is just doing it’s thing.

I was not a big fan of this salad. I think mostly because I wasn’t enjoying the fennel. I also think my shallot was too big. What an unfortunate, un-intended pun by the way. I suppose I should apologize more for the other puns though. I actually came up with them.

Moving on, the shallot was a little too strong in my dressing. I think I should have used only half of the shallot I had minced. It also gave me the worst breath. I chewed a piece of gum and had three or four listerine strips before it went away.  I would have brushed my teeth, but I was in a public place after eating this. Talk about unfortunate.

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A slightly bitter threesome

Pork Parmesan

This is another recipe from my ruined cookbook, Weeknight Menus. I was excited about this recipe, because Chicken Parmesan was my favorite dish as a child and I still love it, but I’ve got tons more favorite dishes now.

This dish isn’t too different from the chicken version nor is it difficult and the best part about it is that you bread with Japanese panko crumbs. As a general rule one usually uses Italian bread crumbs for Parmesan dishes. Panko bread crumbs are light and crisp in comparison to Italian bread crumbs. I think it’s perfect for pork, but I have to admit I’d stick to the Italian bread crumbs for chicken.

The first step in this recipe is to boil your side dish of pasta and pre-heat your oven to 400. This particular recipe called for fettuccine, but I prefer spaghetti as a side. I feel like fettuccine is a bit too thick of a pasta to pair with a whole slab of meat.

Meanwhile, while your pasta is boiling, you bread the pork. I ended up buying a thin sliced package of four boneless pork loin chops from Von’s which worked out perfectly. Whenever I make boneless meat dishes, I can’t help but be thrilled that I don’t have to slaughter and cut my own meat. I’m very much an omnivore, but I understand vegetarians who became so because of their love of animals. Even if I wasn’t sympathetic to animals, though, that whole process seems like a lot of work. I still remember this story my mother told me about watching her grandmother kill and prepare a chicken. She was extremely sweet in her methods, but it was a slightly horrific and fascinating experience for my mother.

My great-grandmother’s method of killing chickens was to gently pick the chicken up from it’s pen. She would then hold it in her lap, grab it’s legs and stroke the chicken’s neck until it calmed down. Once it was calm, she would make sure it’s neck was extended and that it was still calm, grab her cleaver with one hand and WHACK! It’s a frightening concept that I  can relate to life. Whenever things are going well for me, I keep waiting for that cleaver that’s going to chop off my neck. That’s what that story taught me anyway. It’s the calm before the storm.

Ok, so I’m done being a Debbie downer for today, I promise. Let us all be thankful we don’t have to do that.

The next step is to bread your pork. All you do is get two shallow plates and one wide shallow bowl. One shallow plate has flour and the other panko crumbs. The bowl will be filled with two beaten eggs. Take each pork loin and cover with the flour, than cover it with the egg, and finally the panko crumbs. Once all the pork loins are breaded, you fry them in olive oil until golden brown and then set aside.

If your pasta has cooked in this time, you drain it and toss with olive oil and parsley. If not, just do that when it is, whenever that is.

The next step is to make some tomato sauce and the first step to do that is to saute a cup of diced onion and two minced garlic cloves in olive oil. Then you add a 280z can of diced tomatoes along with a cup of chicken broth, a bit of red wine vinegar, sugar, and oregano. The recipe then calls for you to smash the sauce with a potato masher. I do not own one, so I did my best attempts to smash everything. I did this by taking a  flat wooden stirring spoon, scooping up as many chunks of tomatoes as possible, and smashing it against the spoon with a fork.

Once that’s done you boil your sauce and then allow it to simmer for ten minutes.

Now you go back to your pork. You place the pork on a pan and add sliced mozzarella strips on top. Place it in the oven until the cheese melts, which will be around 5 minutes.

Once the pork is done you place it neatly beside your pasta and pour the sauce wherever you like and garnish with Parmesan. I like to pour it everywhere, by the way. I love my gravy. I blame my half Italian-American mother for that.

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As my 5 year old self would say, “Yummy in my tummy!”