Eggplants are to Sicilians what potatoes are to the Irish. – Fabrizia Lanza
I was thinking about comfort food. Eggplant Parmesan, plus any kind of pasta with cheese on it are right at the top of the list.
However you personally define comfort food, somewhere down the line it all comes down to memories of being cooked for and fed before you were able to do so on your own.
I can’t help guessing what would trigger my food cravings if I hadn’t grown up in the United States during the sixties and seventies, but rather in a completely different culture, like Japan or India.
Or, a hundred years ago in the areas of Italy where my ancestors lived.
Instead of the sweet, white and starchy things that my generation learned to want as kids (and probably what lots of 21st century ones do, too) my taste buds might have been formed by a another set of flavors and textures. And if I had been a child during my Italian ancestors’ time, those things would have been the stuff of peasant cooking, la cucina povera.
I’m drawn to those humble, earthy foods so completely that I wonder if it’s somehow coded in DNA. How else do I have a taste — and even a sense of nostalgia — for a way of eating and living I never experienced?
A simple explanation must be just that it TASTES GOOD. No matter the origins of any person’s family tree, we can all relate to satisfying our hungers with recipes that are grounded in peasant cooking.
Without knowing for sure that my great, great, great grandmothers prepared something similar to we now call Eggplant Parmesan, it’s safe to say that Neapolitans and Sicilians have definitely been eating eggplant, tomatoes and fresh cheeses like mozzarella for thousands of years.
My everyday style of cooking doesn’t usually mean deep-frying, which is often a step in classic recipes. So I’ve come up with an oven-roasted method for crusty eggplant – not exactly old school, but somehow it brings the old world and 21st century comfortably together.
eggplant parm mac and cheese
Yield 4-6 servings
Eggplant Parmesan Mac and Cheese - a modern comfort food favorite.
Use homemade marinara sauce, or your favorite prepared sauce.
- 1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed; peeled
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt; plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 3 cups Italian-seasoned panko crumbs or bread crumbs
- Olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 1 pound cooked pasta shells or spirals
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 3/4 cup grated Fontina cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Slice eggplant in half lengthwise and then into ½-inch thick half-moons.
- Whisk together egg, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Add eggplant and toss to coat. Dredge eggplant in the panko crumbs on a cookie sheet.
- Place a large rimmed baking sheet on the oven rack and heat for 10 minutes. Pour enough olive oil over the bottom of the preheated baking sheet to cover to a depth of 1/4-inch. Lay eggplant on the pan and roast 10 minutes. Flip eggplant slices over and roast an additional 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender and crust is golden.
- Meanwhile, heat a medium saucepan over moderate heat; add butter and heat until foaming subsides and butter is melted. Whisk in flour; cook 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 5 – 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees. Combine the pasta with the milk mixture and transfer to a large casserole or baking dish. Top with the eggplant, marinara and Fontina cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until hot and cheese is melted.
Courses vegetarian main course