Kids Make “Naked” Eggplant Parmesan
October 5th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Posted in kids, Recipes
I call my version of eggplant Parmesan “naked” because unlike most, it is not battered with egg and bread crumbs. No, our focus is seasonal vegetables, not starch. So we present the kids in our food appreciation classes with an unadulterated slice of roasted eggplant, topped with a homemade marinara sauce, a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese and a generous dusting of Parmesan.
The big surprise at the end was how eagerly the kids took to the eggplant. Okay, maybe not the littlest kids so much. Kindergarteners mostly have an aversion to anything green and mushy–like roasted eggplant. (Then again, my wife wife refuses to eat eggplant for the same reason). But the older kids like anything that even resembles pizza, and this dish certainly does that. But like I said: No starch.
You can serve this two different ways: either as individual slices as a side dish or snack, or two or three slices stacked with alternating layers of sauce and cheese to make a main course. One big, plump eggplant will yield at least six or seven thick slices.
Start by trimming the ends off your eggplant. Stand it on the wide end and use a serrated bread knife to slice away the skin. Now cut the eggplant into 1-inch slices–or even thicker, if you like. Brush the slices on both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, then spread them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in a 450-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is cooked through and lightly browned on top.
Meanwhile, heat your marinara sauce. This is best made a day or two ahead as it takes several hours to cook properly on the stove. The sauce we made calls for 1 medium onion, diced small, 2 stalks celery, diced small, and 1 large carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box cutter. Saute the vegetables in about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat. Season aggressively with salt and cook until the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
In a separate bowl, put 1 28-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes. Use you hands to squish the tomatoes into little pieces. You can imagine how much fun this is for a group of kids. (Not to worry: They always wash their hands before class begins.) Pour the tomatoes into the pot with the cooked vegetables. Stir in about 1 teaspoon dry oregano. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over very low heat for several hours, or until the vegetables are very tender and the tomatoes have turned into a rustic-looking sauce.
To finish the eggplant, sprinkle torn fresh basil leaves on all of the slices. Ladle marinara sauce over each slice, top with a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese and dust generously with freshly grated Parmesan. Return the baking sheet to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the sauce piping hot.
Note: If you are stacking the slices, do this while you are adding the sauce and cheese, one slice on top of the next. You can use tooth picks to hold it all together.