When I was in Kansas City recently, I had the chance to visit with an old friend, Ursula Terrasi, who was born in Sicily. My son and daughter and I lunched with her—an Italian meal, of course—and I mentioned my food blog. She told me her mother was in her 90s now, but the essence of her fine cooking was simplicity and olive oil.
She gave an example: Mama Maryanna’s Eggplant. It’s one of those non-recipe recipes, that has so few ingredients and steps there’s no need to get out a pencil and paper. Even so, I scribbled a few instructions on the paper table cover at the restaurant. This is my adaptation from those notes.
Mama Maryanna’s Sicilian Eggplant
- 2 medium eggplants
- Olive oil
- Italian bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese
Take 2 eggplants, Ursula said, and cut them into 1/2″ rounds. I inquired as to the type and she seemed quite happy with the small Japanese variety. Sweat the eggplant in a colander. Now all you eggplant sweat-ers know that means to sprinkle the rounds with Kosher salt and let them sit for 30-60 minutes in a colander. Place a plate beneath to catch juices and a weighted plate atop the rounds. The pressure forces any bitter juices to drain out. Gently press out any remaining juices and rinse.
Coat the rounds lightly in olive oil. Place Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on a plate. (It must be Italian bread crumbs; I used plain and added Italian seasoning.) Press each mixture into eggplant rounds on both sides. I used twice as much bread crumbs as cheese in the mixture and a bit of ground pepper. No more salt is needed. Place on oiled baking sheet in a 450-degree oven and baked until brown on one side. Flip over to brown on other side, about 30-40 minutes total. Serve warm.
So easy and yet a dish at the heart of Sicilian cooking.
Kitchen Note: There is an age-old debate as to whether to sweat the eggplant. But according to Nicholas Clee, author of Don’t Sweat the Aubergine, the varieties of eggplant available today don’t have the bitterness they once did. Others argue that it depends on the age and variety of the eggplant and that to be on the safe side it’s best to sweat. I peel and sweat. Video on sweating eggplant here.