Eggplant Parmesan recipes stir memories

Eggplant Parmigiana, better known as Parmesan in the U.S., is one of those dishes that inspires great loyalty among its fans. Hearty and satisfying, it's the perfect marriage of eggplant, tomatoes, herbs and cheese.

I'll never forget the eggplant parm subs I had in New York, especially one at a hole-in-the-wall Italian-American place in Queens. Oh, my, it was messy and so-o-o tasty. Or the time I wrote an ode to eggplant parmesan when a local pizza restaurant took it off its menu. (They didn't relent.)

So, when a reader asked me to seek out the recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana from the former Portaro's restaurant, I could relate completely. While I never had Portaro's version, taste memories of others flooded into my brain.

Well, I had no luck contacting anyone for that recipe, but I didn't want to leave the reader empty-handed. Then Michaelangelo's Kitchen occurred to me. The eggplant parm at the Sam Rittenberg Boulevard restaurant also is de-lish, so I decided to go fishing.

Chef Scott Story was very accommodating. Like most recipes for this dish, his is meatless, which we think is a big part of its appeal. But you could certainly do it with a meat sauce if preferred.

Eggplant Parmesan

2 medium-size eggplants

4 eggs, divided use

1/2 cup milk

15 ounces ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

4 cups Italian bread crumbs

6-8 cups spaghetti sauce

3-4 cups shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, beat together 3 eggs and the milk.

Peel eggplants and slice into thin rounds. Dip the sliced eggplant in the beaten eggs, then coat with bread crumbs. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan and remaining egg and gently fold until mixed well.

Coat the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish with a thin layer of spaghetti sauce, then a single layer of the eggplant. Gently spread half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant followed by a layer of sauce and a layer of shredded mozzarella. Repeat this process using the rest of the ricotta mixture. You will only have 2 layers with the ricotta mix. The final layer or layers will be eggplant, sauce and mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Variety is good, so consider another no-fry recipe from celebrity chef Mario Batali on the Food Network. The eggplant also is baked in the oven.

Eggplant Parmigiana

4 servings

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the baking sheet

2 large eggplants, about 2 pounds

Salt and pepper

2 cups basic tomato sauce, recipe follows

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade (thin strips)

1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted under broiler

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Using some extra-virgin olive oil, oil a baking sheet.

Slice each eggplant into 6 pieces about 1-1 1/2 inches thick. Lightly season each disk with salt and pepper and place on the oiled sheet. Bake the eggplant at 450 degrees until the slices begin turning deep brown on top, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the eggplants from the oven. Remove the slices from the baking sheet and place them on a plate to cool.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. In an 8x12-inch brownie pan, place the 4 largest eggplant slices evenly spaced apart. Over each slice, spread 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and sprinkle with a teaspoon of basil. Place one slice of mozzarella over each and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon grated Parmigiano. Place the smaller slices of eggplant over each of the disks and repeat with tomato sauce, basil, and the 2 cheeses. Repeat the layering again until all the ingredients are used.

Sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs over the top of the eggplant dish, and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the tops turn light brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Yield: 4 cups

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice

4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried

1/2 medium carrot, finely grated

2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

Salt

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Anne Peterson of Summerville writes, "Here are two recipes from the requests in today's (Aug. 16) paper. The eggplant recipe is my adaptation to reduce the calories and carbohydrates in the usual parmesan recipes. It's fresh, roasted and yummy! The sweet potato salad has been a standard Thanksgiving side dish for my family, and comes from the Bon Appetit magazine from November 1983. It's absolutely delicious year round."

Eggplant Parmesan

1 large eggplant

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pint grape tomatoes

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoons oregano

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut eggplant into 1/2-inch dice. Toss eggplant and grape tomatoes with oil, herbs, salt, pepper in large bowl.

Place on cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

Place cheese in same bowl; toss cooked veggies with cheese.

Sweet Potato Salad With Honey Vinaigrette

3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch dice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick potatoes. Bake until just easily pierced to center with knife, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Peel potatoes. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in large bowl.

Honey Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

9 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix honey, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil.

To assemble the salad: Mix vinaigrette and parsley into potatoes. Marinate at least 30 minutes. Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using. Add tomatoes and serve.

Who's got the recipe?

--Vickie Strobel of Jedburg has two requests: recipes for chicken cacciatore and for a pound cake she's trying to duplicate. She saw the cake in the Sunnyland Farms catalog: It's called Rum Crunch. The cake is baked in a tube pan and comes out encrusted in coconut flakes and pecan pieces. Anybody know of something similar?

Reach Teresa Taylor at 937-4886, food@postandcourier.com or write The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403. Include a daytime phone number.