If you know anything about my cooking style, you know I love capturing traditional dishes of world cuisines. I'm talking little-known pasta shapes from rural Italy, Persian dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), Tunisian turnip salad, or shrimp and grits from South Carolina. I don't care where in the world you're talking about, I want to make classic food from that place. I don't typically go for "fusion-food", like Korean tacos or pasta with corn (yes, I've seen a recipe). Getting even more picky, I usually don't make "American" versions of world cuisines (I never make "curry" with curry powder). Often, this applies to Italian-American food. Sure, I make pizza and pasta. But I also make polenta and risotto and porchetta and grilled zucchini and piadina and other dishes that aren't slathered with red sauce and called Italian food.
But. But. Tonight I had some eggplant that I needed to use, and wasn't in the mood for the dishes I would normally make with eggplant--green curry (Thai), tagine (Moroccan), baba ghanoush (Middle Eastern), or ratatouille (French). So I decided to make eggplant parmesan. Perhaps one of the most definitive Italian-American dishes out there.
I sliced some (skinny) eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips, salted them, and let them sweat in a colander. Meanwhile, I made an excellent red sauce by sauteing onion, a chili pepper, garlic, and oregano with crushed tomatoes. Patting the eggplant slices dry, I dredged them in flour (I added pepper and lemon zest for a fun twist--worth it), and briefly fried in olive oil, hot and fast. Then I simply layered the eggplant slices in a casserole with sauce and tons of fresh mozzerella and grated parmesan and baked on a 400 degree oven until browned. Served the classic Italian-American way with a bed of angel hair. And on a checkered tablecloth, no less.
My "normal" style be damned, this was a bloody good meal, and I encourage you to make it yourself. The eggplant gets smoky, the sauce is spicy, the cheese hugs your stomach, and the lemon brightly hums. Worth a departure from the norm.