Saturday, July 31
It has been a lot of fun for me to go to local stores or markets and see things I had never seen in Japan, and occasionally try them and see what they are like. Some of them totally new to me, some very similar to something we have back home, some look exactly the same as they do in Japan and taste quite different, etc. When it comes to vegetable, they have quite a different variety over here, while there are lots of things familiar to me. Aubergine - or should I call them eggplant? - for example are a staple in Japan, and so does it look like in here, but somehow it almost seems to me they are totally different kinds of vegetable, albeit looking pretty similar. One of the common types of eggplant here is that big, round one with shiny dark purple skin; we have a kind that look very much the same in Japan, too, but they are different. When I first bought and tried one of those big ones, I was very disappointed - or almost shocked - how its skin was so rough and hard. After hours of cooking, while the flesh had gone all too soggy and textureless, the skin stayed pretty hard and chewy. It was so unpleasant I never bothered to buy another, and stuck to skinnier and paler-looking Thai eggplant instead.
For a combination of different factors, I for once bought some round eggplants the other day. The biggest reason was, well, they were marked down (they are organic and still looking pretty fresh) and another was I had something in my mind; eggplant parmesan (or eggplant parmigiana?).
I think this is one typical dish that I didn't see so often in Italian restaurants in Japan but is so common over here; a layer of sliced eggplant, tomato sauce, and mozzarella and and parmigiano reggiano cheeses baked in the oven, just like lasagna with eggplant instead of pasta. And they use those round eggplants in this dish. I don't particularly like this dish, but it somehow popped up into my mind when I saw the bag of eggplants on sale, I thought it was about time to give it a revenge.
I browsed several different recipes for eggplant parmesan, and sort of put them together. The point I stuck to was pre-cooking of eggplants; some recipes called for deep-frying while others said oven-frying, and I naturally followed the latter. I sliced one huge eggplant into round slices, tossed them with a generous amount of good olive oil, and seasoned with salt and thyme, as seen in here. Meanwhile I slices up some mozzarella cheese, and vigorously grated good parmigiano reggiano and - in fact, pecorino romano as well, just because I had the block along with the parmigiano.
Then, instead of placing the eggplant slices to make a huge dish-full layer of eggplant and cheese, I assembled a few tall, individual stacks of the eggplant, sauce, and cheese, just like mille-feuilles, or so-called Napoleon.
Believe it or not, they looked pretty before they set out for a 15-minute stay in the oven. But when they came back from the journey, they -to my great grief - miserably collapsed and made a big mess. I must have messed up in building up the components; the eggplant slices might have been too thick, the tomato sauce might have been too runny, and there might have been to much sauce and cheese to hold the stack upright. Anyways, even though it was a complete mess, they still tasted wonderful; the oven-frying process made the eggplant slices absolutely delicious - tender but not soggy, and the edge being crispy without a slightest toughness of thick, annoying skin. Think about now delicious eggplant combined with good (well, at least decent store-bought) sauce and quality parmigiano reggiano (and pecorino romano)cheese I brought from Italy - you can't fail. It was the best eggplant parmesan I have ever had, if you allow me to blow my own trumpet and ignore the fact that I haven't actually had this dish so many times.
But there is, naturally, an inevitable price you pay for dangerously rich dish like this; what made the eggplant taste so good was the generous amount of olive oil which was all the way absorbed into the vegetable, and the finishing blow of an almost insane amount of cheese. A LOT OF FAT. It was admittedly rich and filling. Every why has a wherefore.