While the pandemic has brought a flood of serious worries, we also miss pre-COVID pleasures. For example, I often wonder when we will be able to travel safely again. My mind often drifts to places we’ve been and sights we’ve seen, and these memories sometimes influence my cooking.
When we traveled to Sicily last fall, I was struck by how often our meals included eggplant.
Because of its meaty texture, eggplant can be the base for substantial meals, many without meat. Eggplants come in a variety of breeds, including white eggplant, striped eggplant and Japanese and Chinese eggplant. We especially like the round Italian eggplant, which has a milder flavor than the deep purple American eggplant and is less seedy.
One of Dan’s favorite eggplant meals is eggplant parmesan. Fortunately, it’s simple to slim down the fat in this dish without losing flavor.
Slices of peeled eggplant are dipped in egg white and dredged in seasoned breadcrumbs. Although breaded eggplant slices are often fried for eggplant parmesan, it saves fat and calories to bake them in the oven. I coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray and bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until they are almost tender.
Next, I cover the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking dish with tomato sauce and layer the baked slices, a drizzling of sauce and a sprinkle of Romano cheese. This is repeated until I have used all of the eggplant. I cover the top layer completely with sauce and sprinkle it with ¾ c. part-skim or reduced-fat mozzarella. Saving the mozzarella for the top provides a big cheesy flavor. Because we eat with our eyes, we think we’re eating more cheese than we actually are.
The layered eggplant is baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
On Sunday, as I reminisced about our trip to Sicily, I decided to pair the eggplant with a side of whole wheat orecchiette pasta tossed in tomato sauce. As I wrote previously, orecchiette — or “little ears” — is a common type of pasta in southern Italy.
As we enjoyed the eggplant Parmesan and orecchiette with a salad, our conversations took us back to Italy as coronavirus continues to keep us home.