Tag Archives: Italian cooking

Eggplant Parmigiana

One of the most popular items among family members that I cook is eggplant parmesan.  I bring it to family birthday parties, holiday parties and other family gatherings, where I always leave with an empty pan.

Eggplant parmesan or parmigiana di melanaza is a classic southern Italian dish, particularly in Sicily.  Eggplants like warm and dry climates, so southern Italy is an ideal native ground for this plant.  Eggplants are used in a variety of dishes– in pasta, on pizza, in spreads, in salads, among other things.  It’s truly a versatile vegetable.

In Episode 3 of our show, we walk through how your prepare the fresh eggplant, battering and frying the eggplant, assembling the dish and finally, baking to perfection.  We hope you enjoy the show and will give the recipe a try.  Please share any comments.

The recipe shared in this episode makes enough for 5-7 people (or more depending upon how many servings and how hungry your guests are).   You will 2 fresh eggplants (1 large, 1 small/medium sized), 28 ozs of tomato sauce (be sure to prepare it as shown in Episode 1 (without the meat in the sauce), 2-3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, salt, pepper, 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, 3 cups of fresh shredded mozzarella, approximately 3-4 cups of water in a bowl, and lots of olive oil (as much as needed for frying).  You will also need a 8 x 11 inch (2 quart) pan for cooking.  If you’d like to make a larger dish (which I usually do), simply prepare more eggplants, up the amount of ingredients and use a bigger pan!

Preparing the Fresh Eggplant

Peel the 2 fresh eggplant, removing all the skin.  Once all the skin is removed, getting a sharp knife and cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the eggplant slices into a large bowl of salt water (you’ll need about 3 -4 cups of water with about 3 teaspoons of salt dissolved in).  Let all of the eggplant slices soak in the salt water for about 5 minutes.  The goal is to soften the eggplant up so you can more easily remove the seeds, as well as to make the eggplant softer for frying.   Once done soaking, take a knife and scrape the seeds off of each of the eggplant slices.  The seeds are bitter and you should seek to remove as many as possible before cooking.    As you finish removing the seeds, place each eggplant slices on paper towels, drying them all around.

Batter and Fry the Eggplant Slices

Before battering and frying, prepare your tomato sauce.  You should prepare it the same way as we reviewed in Episode 1.  Keep it on a very lower simmer on the stove while you batter and fry the eggplant slices.

Take your 3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs and place them in a large flat dish.  Crack and beat the 2 eggs into a dish, adding salt and pepper.  Take an eggplant slice with a fork and coat it in the egg.  Once fully coated with the egg, place it in the breadcrumbs, ensuring it is fully coated in breadcrumbs.  Repeat until all the eggplant slices are fully coated in breadcrumbs.

Get a large frying pan, and place it on the stove at medium heat.  Add olive oil.  You want to be sure to have enough oil to get a good frying process going– too little oil can burn the eggplant, so be careful.   Keep adding enough oil so the frying process continues without burning the eggplant.

Once the oil is nice and hot, add your eggplant slices, covering the pan.  Cook each slice until golden brown on each side, then place onto a dish with paper towels (you can layer the eggplant slices on top of one another with paper towels in between each layer).  If the olive oil becomes “dirty” or in other words, there are a lot of residual breadcrumbs pieces mixed in, swap out the dirty oil for fresh olive oil.

Layer the Eggplant in the Pan

Now you’re ready for the fun part (or the next fun part!).  There is no science behind how many layers of eggplant you should have for the perfect eggplant parmesan– just layer it until you reach the top of the pan.

Take your pan and coat the bottom with some of your tomato sauce.  Take an eggplant slice, coat it in tomato sauce, then place it in the pan.  Repeat with each slice until you’ve fully completed the layer.  Before going onto the next layer, sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese (or pecorino romano) over the layer, as well as sprinkle the fresh grated mozzarella cheese over the layer.  Build the next layer, repeating the process of adding the grated parmesan and shredded mozzarella in between each layer.  When you reach the top layer, top it off with the parmesan cheese and mozzarella.  Add some tomato sauce along the sides of the dish (don’t place any on top!).  That’s it!  Now you’re ready to bake it.

Baking the Eggplant Parmesan

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place your pan of eggplant parmigiana into the middle of the oven.  Let it bake for about 20 minutes, rotating about halfway through.  I like to get a nice golden brown, crispy layer on top, so I move it to the top shelf of the oven after the 20 minutes is up, for about another 5-7 minutes.  Keep a close eye on it, making sure it doesn’t burn.  Once crispy on top, you’re ready to serve!

Make sure you serve the eggplant parmigiana hot!  It’s easy to re-heat if it cools down, which you can do in the oven.  You can serve with some tomato sauce on the side, as well as grated parmesan cheese.  It goes great with red wine.  Buon appetito!

Mama Lombardo’s Pizza

Pizza is one of the classic dishes that everyone loves.  Pizza has been modified to all different forms around the world, but nothing compares to the pizza recipe I grew up with.  When my parents came over from Italy, they cooked a thick crust pizza as was the tradition in Sicily.  My aunts, sister-in-laws and I modified the approach over the years to a thinner crust, while keeping the recipe true to its origins.  In Sicily today, you can find thick crust, as well as thin crust.  In fact, thin crust is more common, and it’s especially delicious when baked in a wood oven stove.  You don’t need a wood oven stove for my recipe (a regular electric or gas stove will work fine), but you will still need enough love, heart and soul that goes into a great pizza!  I have great memories of making trays of pizzas for my kids, grandkids and all their friends, and I hope that you’ll be able to create some similar great memories with my recipe.

Episode 2 walks you through how to make the pizza dough, prepare the pan, place on the toppings and baking the pizza.  Watch it and let us know your thoughts!  We really enjoy your comments and would love to hear from you.

Making the Pizza Dough

The ingredients for making the dough for 3-4 pizzas (about 18 inches x 12 inches) are:

6 cups of flour (white flour), 2 cups of luke warm water, 2 one oz. packs of yeast, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar

Place the 6 cups of flour in a large pan (make sure it’s big enough for you to knead and manipulate the dough).  Add the salt, sugar and olive oil with the flour and mix well.    Mix the yeast with the water.  Stir it in for about 1-2 minutes until mixed well.  The slowly pour a little bit of water in with the flour mix.  Stir it, then add some more water.  Stir again.  Keep adding the water slowly until well mixed.  If the dough is sticky, add some additional flour.  The goal is to get the dough’s consistency smooth and even, so that’s not sticking to your fingers.  Knead it with  your hands, punching it down until the dough is smooth.

Keeping the dough in a single big ball, place a cloth over the top of the dough.  Put a cover on top of the pan, and place in a warm spot to rise.  Let the dough rise for about 75-90 minutes.  The dough should rise about 3-4 inches, pushing the cloth upward.  When it’s finished rising, break the dough into even, individual pizza dough balls (this recipe will allow for about 4 dough balls).  Round the individual balls out, then cover each with a cloth in a warm spot and let them re-rise for about 15 minutes.

Preparing the Pizza Dough

The ingredients you’ll need to prepare the pizza dough on the pan are 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of grated pecorino romano cheese.

First, prepare your 18 x 12 x 1 pizza pan by coating it with olive oil.  The olive oil will help the dough spread and ensure it doesn’t stick to the pan.  You probably will need about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Use a paper towel or cloth to spread the oil.

Once the pan is prepared, take one of the individual pizza dough balls, place it on the pan and begin stretching it out with your hands.  Carefully pull it out, starting at the center of the ball, and then outward towards the edges of the pan.  The dough should be thin, without tearing.  If you do tear the dough, gently cover it up with some more dough.  Add some grated pecorino romano cheese on top of the dough to help with the stretching process (it will give you some friction), as well as some flavor to the dough.  You have a finished stretching the pizza dough out when it cover the entire surface of the pan, with only a small space between the edge of the dough and the edge of the pan all around.

Adding the Toppings

The ingredients you’ll need for toppings for 4 pizzas are one 28 oz can of pureed tomato (Pastene Kitchen Ready tomato sauce is recommended), about 4-5 cups of mozzarella cheese (grated from a package or fresh is fine), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 diced cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, a pinch of dried oregano and whatever toppings you’d like.  I recommend keeping it simple and either keeping it plain or adding prosciutto, mushrooms and/or roasted red peppers.

Heat the tomato sauce in a small pan on the stove.  Heat it enough so it just gets warm– do not bring it to a boil.  Low to medium heat for about 5-7 minutes is plenty.

Add a handful of minced garlic on the pizza (if you really like garlic, add more). Spread 4-5 large spoonfuls (a wooden spoon is recommended) of tomato sauce over the top of the pizza.  Use the back of the spoon to spread the sauce over the dough, making sure it covers the entire pizza dough.  Spread the grated mozzarella cheese over the pizza, getting good coverage all over the pizza.  If you like extra cheese, feel free to add it, but I think a pizza with a moderate amount of cheese is best.  Now you can add whatever toppings you’d like (stay clear of too many toppings– the simpler the better).  In the video, I add mushrooms and roasted red pizza, but most of the time don’t add any and serve it plain.  Sprinkle the salt, pepper and oregano over the pizza.  Next, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the pizza, and then you’re ready to get it into the oven.

Baking the Pizza

Once you’ve added the toppings, you’re ready to bake the pizza.  Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees (if your oven can’t reach that temperature, 450 degrees works).  The higher temperature will get a nice crispy texture to the pizza.  Place your pizza into the oven, about halfway down.  You will cook the pizza for 10-15 minutes maximum.  About halfway through cooking, be sure to check the bottom of the pizza to make sure it’s not sticking or burning.  Lift it with a fork all the way around.  Turn the pizza around in the oven for even baking.  You will know the pizza is finished when it looks slightly brown on top and the sides.  After 10-15 minutes, pull it out of the oven, and let it cool for a few minutes.  Cut it (I like cutting it into squares, but any shape works!), and you’re ready to serve!

Serve the pizza by itself or whatever side dishes you’d like.  A pilsner beer goes well with pizza (or wine if you prefer).  Buon appetito!