My take on Eggplant Parmesan, a dish that deserves capital letters, is to make it as free-standing towers of casserole, fat Napoleons of vegetable, sauce, and cheese. (I'm not saying this was my idea, mind you; I'm sure I saw someone do this on the Food Network once upon a cooking show.) The more conventional alternative, a layered gratin filling a whole pan, is of course very good. But made this way you can more easily compensate for the quantity of eggplant you happen to have. This way it also cooks much faster. Most importantly, though, I just love to have individualized servings. Cutting up a casserole into portions is a hassle and the pieces are never neat or pretty. You also need to wait to let a casserole cool off, but these can be eaten straight out of the oven without burning your tongue and palate.
First I made tomato sauce: 2 cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, half a large onion and two cloves of garlic, both minced, half a large carrot, shredded, a few sprigs of thyme, a pinch of red chile flakes, and extra virgin olive oil. I warmed up the aromatics in the oil until soft and then added the tomatoes and a lot of salt. About half an hour later, it was sauce.
I peeled a medium eggplant and sliced it into thick circles, which I salted for about three hours while I was out shopping, pressing them between thick layers of paper towel weighted down by Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer cookbook, which I just got out of the library. Nigella's ice cream recipes come highly recommended and reading them has made me very hungry. But her prose is pretentious and uppercrusty, as in this intro to a recipe for marinated salmon with capers and gherkins, page 82:
I first ate this sitting under a shade on a small, unpeopled Ibicencan beach bar a few summers ago, and just had to make it, or a version of it, myself once back. It's not what one might automatically think of as Spanish food; the fish, the way it's prepared, as well as the dill that's sprinkled on top, remind me far more of northern European cooking. Still, let's be realistic; the influx of Germans over the years (while it hasn't reached Mallorcan levels of teutonization) must account for its inclusion on the menu in the first place.Jesus Fucking Christ! Anyhow, I salt eggplant to make it salty and a bit chewy. Debate still rages about the necessity or utility of this procedure, but I will never give it up. At this point you could bread and fry the eggplant, which is the classic technique. But this adds time, ingredients, calories, and extra unnecessary flavors. It's easy to screw up the frying and end up with a greasy casserole. Instead of that, I roasted the eggplant in a single layer on a well-oiled sheet pan at 425 for about twenty minutes and left the slices to cool on a plate.
I made the towers out of layers of:
fresh basil leaves (a trick I learned from Carmela Soprano)
finely grated parmesan cheese
I baked these in the oven at 350 for about twenty minutes, then turned on the broiler and broiled them for about five until they were dark brown on top. They tasted most of all like eggplant, like a ripe late summer vegetable, complemented by a strong tomato tang and a sharp cheesey bite. One could make Eggplantparm in the winter--I've done it many times--but it's not quite the same.