I loved Berkley Breathed’s cartoon Bloom County and was sad to see it go 25 years ago but I am very happy that it is back and just as good as before. This recipe is named for Opus, the penguin character in this comic strip. Here in Pittsburgh it is always misconstrued as misplaced support for the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. I do like them but I like Opus much better. This recipe is one that has evolved over the past 20 years and has gotten better every year all by trial and, I won’t say error, but taste. I am surprised that I have not written anything about this recipe before now but I guess I was being a bit selfish. It started long ago in a galaxy far away when I was not impressed by the local Italian place’s eggplant parmesan and I thought I could do better. I hope you like this version and if you are feeling “froggy” you can use sharp provolone to punch up the flavors. Tomorrow is another adventure with the smoker this time with a brisket and the Texas rule of 3-2-1 for smoking the meat. I nhope it turns out okay.
Penguin Lust Eggplant Parmesan
Gary Bechard – The Well Fed Cyclist
4 – small to medium eggplant, skinned and sliced lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick slices (or for the metric geeks a little less than ½ cm) Sort these by size (I will explain later…Now, just do it)
1 to 2 packages – packaged, sliced mozzarella cheese
15 ounces – ricotta cheese (I use skim but, hey, if you want to use full it’s your waistline. I won’t judge)
1 to 2 packages – sliced provolone cheese
Or You can mix and match!
4 – medium to large Portobello mushroom caps (deveined by taking the dark stuff under the cap), sliced thin, about 1/16 of an inch or about .25 cm
2 to 3 cups – whole wheat flour (you can use white if you want to but I find that whole wheat gives a richer flavor)
Note – I use my hand for measurement most times and very rarely use measuring devices. I kind of cup my hand and fill the hollow which is about 1 tablespoon.
3 palms full – dried parsley flakes (about 3 to 4 tablespoons)
2 palms full – dried basil flakes (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
1 palm full – dried oregano flakes (about 1 to 2 tablespoons)
½ palm – garlic powder (you do not want to overdo this one if you want a kiss for your efforts later)
1 to 2 palms full – coarse ground black pepper (1 to 2 tablespoons)
5 – eggs, beaten
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Either 2 jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce OR, if your favorite sauce is your own homemade sauce, about 6 cups should do it
1 cup – shredded or grated parmesan cheese (I use a combination of pecorino Romano, parmesan and Asiago cheeses)
9 X 13 inch baking dish
Large non-stick skillet
Besides the slicing of the eggplant and mushrooms there is only one thing that you would have to do and that is to make your coating for the eggplant. In a large sealable plastic bag (1 gallon works best for me) dump in flour, parsley flakes, basil, oregano, garlic powder, parmesan cheese and pepper. Seal bag and shake to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
The Assembly Line:
What I normally do at this point (after all the slicing and mixing has been done) is create an assembly line for what are essentially limp, eggplant fritters (in a manner of speaking). The overall concept for the dish is to create individual stacks of eggplant parmesan. My set up (going from left to right) is stacks of eggplant slices, 5 eggs beaten, seasoned flour then the pan. On the other side of the pan, the 9 X 13 baking dish with the stacks of mozzarella, portabella mushroom slices, and ricotta or provolone slices (make sure you have a fork for the ricotta).
Pour half of your sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Then take your trusty non-stick skillet and pour enough olive oil to slightly cover the bottom of the pan. Set the stove to medium low (5 to 6 on my stove you gas users are on your own, sorry) and allow the oil to come to temperature. (You should see a slight shimmer on the oil) Starting with the largest eggplant slices dip in the egg and then cover with flour. Place in skillet and cook until both sides are browned and eggplant slice is slightly limp. (I try to do 3 to 4 at a time). Once a set of slices are done, set each in the 9 X 13 dish as the base for the eggplant stacks. On top of the first layer place a layer of portabella mushroom slices. (You can start with a different ingredient but this is usually my first layer). Repeat the process for the second set of eggplant slices, place on top of the mushroom layer and layer on mozzarella cheese.
Special Note – After about two sets of eggplant slices the flour that falls off during the cooking process will start to burn slightly. I usually scrape the residue out of the pan with a silicone spatula and re-oil the pan so that the oil is clean for the next set of slices.
I continue the cooking and layering process with ricotta and then top with one final slice. You can make the stacks as high as you want but mine end up in this order:
Pour remaining sauce over the top of each stack and sprinkle parmesan, Romano, Asiago cheeses on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
I like to have a nice salad or green beans cooked with pancetta or prosciutto. You should have a great Chianti on hand or (if you like white) a good Pinot Grigio to have with your eggplant.