Over lunch, a friend from Sicily revealed her 90-year-old nona’s (grandmother’s) secret to fine cooking. Simplicity and olive oil.
She gave an example: Nona’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. Even so, I scribbled a few instructions on a scrap of paper I found crumbled up in my purse. This is my adaptation from those notes.
Mama’s Sicilian Eggplant
- 2 medium eggplants
- Olive oil
- Italian bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese
Take 2 eggplants, my friend 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. Or use plain and add Italian seasoning.) Press 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 bake until brown on one side. Flip over to brown on other side, about 30-40 minutes total. Serve warm.
Kitchen Note: There’s 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. To be on the safe side, they say, it’s best to sweat. Video on sweating eggplant here.