Things are quiet here at La Cucina Castano currently. A busy travel weekend for hockey means no cooking, drinking or dancing. We did have a bit of fun last weekend, however. A little Friday night gathering with some of the crew. Troy and Mick, Kristen, Janene, Mick and Jeff, Anita and Matt all stopped by. Amy and Pat made their first appearance at La Cucina too. Always glad to have them on board. Kathi and Michael were sadly missed.
Your host was drinking martinis (of course) and probably had one, or maybe a few, too many. But with two days to recover, what the hell. I was kicking it old school with brother-in-law Jeff. Belvedere Intense vodka, Noilly Prat vermouth and blue cheese stuffed olives for garnish.
The big hit seemed to be the eggplant parm. I wanted to make something ahead of time that could just be popped in the oven or crockpot to minimize time spent slaving over the stove wihle guest were here. This was more of a happy hour, certainly not a dinner party, but you gotta have food, right? Eggplant parm, while easy as hell to make, is just a wee bit labor intensive. You have to start with some nice firm eggplant. Nothing soft. Nice and firm. Color should be a nice dark purple. You rinse off the eggplant and then slice into thin slices - short way, not length wise, though I guess you could do length wise if so inspired. Hopefully the eggplant won’t have a ton of seeds. Most don’t these days. Seeds are being bred out of eggplants and many today have hardly any. Not like they will hurt you or anything. It’s just that less seeds equal more eggplant flesh.
After slicing the eggplant you dip each piece in an egg wash (beat some eggs in a bowl) - you should at least salt the egg wash but you can add other seasoning too. After you take each piece out of the eggs let the excess egg drip off because the next step is coating the eggplant slice in seasoned bread crumbs. Too much egg still on the eggplant slice will result in clumps of breadcrumb burning in the oil you will fry this in. After coating the slice in breadcrumbs drop into a big pan of hot oil. If you are lucky enough to have a deep fryer more power to you. If not (and that’s most of us) fill a deep pan with oil and get as hot as you can. I used Canola oil for this batch.
Drop each piece in the hot oil and fry until brown. You will flip at least once to make sure each side gets fried evenly. After each piece is fried - and you should be frying multiple slices at a time or it would take forever - drain on paper towels or a rock. Eggplant’s soft flesh will absorb a lot of oil.
Once you get it all fried let it cool for a bit. You can even fry the eggplant a day or so ahead of time and keep in the fridge. Now you get a pan, some tomato sauce (whatever kind floats your boat) and lots of mozzarella cheese. Then you start layering from the bottom up - sauce, eggplant, sauce, cheese, eggplant, sauce, cheese, etc, etc, etc. I prefer less sauce and more cheese, but that’s just me. With each layer add some seasoning - whatever tickles you fancy - garlic powder, onion slat, garlic salt, italian blend mix, whatever you like. After all the layering the top should be a ton of cheese. I mean a ton. Cover with foil and pop in the oven. Temp isn’t that critical, you just want it heated all the way through and all the cheese melted. Take the foil off when it’s almost done to get the cheese on top a little brown, but not too much.
Of course I had to make a little pasta to go along with this so I ended up cooking while the guests were here. Just something simple, though. Penne pasta, a lot of extra virgin olive oil, a ton of garlic, a little bit of crushed red pepper, some plum tomatoes (crushed by hand), a little bit of clam stock and some chopped black olives. Super simple and easy.
Well, it will be a few weeks before the next shindig here in the Brown Kitchen. So until then, eat and drink well, sing and laugh often, dance the night away and have fun!