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Pantry Basics

In Season: Eggplant
July 21, 2011 • Posted by Jennifer Perillo

I’ve been eating seasonally for some time now, and it certainly has its advantages. Every veggie and bite of fruit is bursting with flavor, having only been picked hours before, generally within 100 to 150 miles of where I live. The downside to this approach means I haven’t had eggplant parmigiana in the winter in about five years.

Come late June/early July, the site of the first eggplants at my local farmers’ market is like a mirage. The long wait is over, and I can buy as much as I want, the capacity of my belly being the only thing holding me back. Oh, and there’s that annoying little fact that eggplant season coincides with summer. If you’ve never experienced summer in New York City, imagine sitting in a sauna for two months straight. Then imagine you’re sitting there fully dressed…with two kids in tow. Yes, there’s a reason for the phrase “autumn in New York”. Come summertime, everyone wants to get out of dodge. But not me, for there is finally eggplant to be had!

I love Sicilian-style eggplant parmigiana and base my recipe on a dish from a favorite neighborhood restaurant, Ferdinando’s Focceria. Unlike American-style parmigiana, in which the eggplant slices are breaded, fried and layered with mozzarella cheese before baking in the oven, the Sicilian approach is more adaptable to taking the cooking method outdoors by turning your grill into an oven. At Ferdinando’s they simply slice small, thin Italian eggplants into medallions, layer it in a baking dish, cover with tomato sauce and top with a sprinkle of cheese—I’m guessing it’s Parmigiano, but could easily be Pecorino too.

Japanese eggplant is a great substitute for the Italian ones, and since there are no seeds, you can skip the usual salting. This means I’m a good 30 minutes closer to getting my fill of eggplant parmigiana. After a long cold winter, that makes the dog days of summer well worth it.

Grilled Sicilian-Style Eggplant Parmigiana
Serves 4

On the rare occasions when I have leftovers of this dish, I love tossing it with some hot pasta and some diced fresh mozzarella.

3 Japanese eggplants (15 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch thick medallions
1 1/4 cups (312 ml) marinara sauce
1/2 cup (26 grams) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Olive oil or cooking spray, to coat the pie plate

  1. Preheat your gas grill with all the burners turned to high. If you’re using a charcoal grill, pile the briquettes on one side only.
  2. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil or cooking spray. Arrange the eggplant in the dish in two layers. Evenly pour the sauce over the eggplant, shaking the pie plate to help distribute the sauce to the bottom layer. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce.
  3. If you’re using a three-burner, turn off the center grill. If you’re using a two-burner grill, turn off one burner. Place the pie plate on top of the grill area where the flame is shut off (or opposite where the briquettes are stacked, if using a charcoal grill). Close the lid and let cook until the eggplant is tender and cheese is melted and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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