Growing up in Rhode Island, I was introduced to a large Italian-American community. The one that calls pasta sauce, gravy and manicotti is manigot. Federal Hill in Providence is the hub for this community and they serve up great culinary delights. I would not call the food authentic Italian but definitely as Italian-American as you can get. I love Venda Ravioli, where you can get great cheeses, olives, and fresh pastas.
On twitter, Amy from Poor Girl Gourmet, mentioned that she was making Chicken Parmesan for dinner. I love Chicken Parmesan and I was thinking about making Eggplant Parmesan for quite some time. This twitter conversation reminded me of how Rhode Islanders call a sub sandwich a grinder, or more accurately, grindaaa. These local colloquialisms make up a big part of growing up in Rhode Island. My sister and I can go on and on for hours in our fake Rhode Island accents (somehow we did not pick them up). We banter back and forth, “Yo, Tony!” This drives my husband mad. We just get into a zone and forget about who is around us.
On the topic of Eggplant Parmesan, this has always been one of my favorite foods. It is so versatile as well. You can have it in a calzone, on top of pizza, in a “grinda,” or on its own. My version is full of herbs and is not too far a departure from the original. I bread and fry eggplant rounds till golden and delicious. Who does not love fried eggplant? Then, I layer it with herbed ricotta, marinara sauce, and provolone cheese. I top it all off with Parmigiano Reggiano and bake it in the oven. The result is a bubbling and gooey dish that no one can resist.
1 medium-sized eggplant, cut into 1/4″ rounds
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
any combination of fresh herbs you like, I used oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley (for the breading and eggs)
oil for frying
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup provolone cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim, not that it really made a difference)
salt, to taste (extra for leaching water out of the eggplant)
black pepper, to taste
crushed red chilies, to taste
Lay the eggplant rounds on a tray and cover liberally with salt. Allow the excess moisture to come out of the eggplant, about 30 minutes. Then rinse away all the salt and pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Meanwhile, make the ricotta mixture by whipping the ricotta with salt and pepper. After the eggplant is dried, in one plate add the breadcrumbs and a handful of the mixed herbs, salt, and pepper. In other plate, combine the beaten eggs with some mixed herbs, salt, and crushed red chilies. Dip the eggplant rounds in the egg first then into the breadcrumbs. Heat up a frying pan on medium heat with enough oil for a pan-fry. Fry the eggplant on both sides until cooked through. Drain off the excess oil on a plate lines with paper towels.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized baking dish, add a little marinara sauce to the bottom of the dish and then lay down the eggplant slices, then the marinara, dollop the ricotta cheese on top of the marinara (about 1 cup), then the next layer of eggplant. Continue this until the layers reach the top, it should be 2 layers. Top off with any extra marinara sauce/ricotta and the provolone and Parmigiano Reggiano. I sprinkled a little parsley on top as well. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and light golden. Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.