Sunday, November 4, 2012

There's No Place like Home

After a recent night out at RPM, one of Chicago's hottest Italian eateries, I had to recreate their eggplant parm at home since I haven't been able to get it out of my head.  Lucky for me, my Mother-in-Law has a recipe in her arsenal that will knock your socks off and even though it's a lot of work (frying tens of eggplant slices and making fresh sauce) the payoff is worth every second of your precious time.  Best of all, you'll now have a foolproof recipe that tastes authentic and is better than a night out on the town. (Sorry RPM).

  I pair it with my favorite spicy caesar salad, a nice bottle of cab, and my most forgiving sweatpants.

Eggplant Parmesan with Crispy Breadcrumb Topping:
3 tbsp EVOO, plus 2 cups for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, drained
Kosher salt/freshly ground pepper
8 small eggplants (1/2 lb each) cut lengthwise 1/2" thick
3 tbsp coarsely chopped basil
1 lb lightly salted fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and torn into small pieces
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tbsp dry bread crumbs

  1. In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Using your hands, crush the whole tomatoes into the skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes. Transfer the tomato sauce to a food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil. Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper. Working in several batches, cook the eggplant over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 8 minutes per batch; add more olive oil to the skillet between batches. Drain the eggplant slices on paper towels.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange one-third of the fried eggplant slices in the baking dish and sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil. Top with one-third of the torn mozzarella and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat this layering twice. Sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the top of the eggplant Parmesan. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top of the eggplant Parmesan is golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Spicy Caesar Salad
1/2 baguette, sliced 1/3" thick
1/4 cup EVOO, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
freshly ground pepper
6 slices lean bacon (3 oz)
1 1/2 lbs romaine lettuce, torn into large bite-size pieces
1 long red chile, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the baguette slices on a baking sheet and lightly brush both sides with olive oil.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let the toasts cool, then break into large pieces.
2) Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the mayo, anchovies, lemon juice, garlic, and mustard and blend until smooth.  With the processor on, slowly pour in the 1/4 cup olive oil.  Season the dressing with pepper.

3) In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side.  Drain and slice crosswise 1" thick.

4) In a large bowl, toss the romaine with the sliced chile, croutons, and the bacon.  Add the dressing and toss.  Sprinkle with Parmesan over the salad, toss again and serve right away.

Make ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated overnight.


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