Growing up Italian, fried eggplant was as much a staple for dinner as Sunday sauce. My grandmothers, and their mothers before them lived out of the garden. Squash, basil, figs, tomatoes, lemons. The season dictated what was cooking. The season coupled with a serious sense of waste not anything in your possession. And there was no cowering away from oil in a pan. This, I am especially grateful for.
The extended hours of summer have ignited in me a renewed energy to channel the women before me and get resourceful at home. I have taken to using basic ingredients to make food that is often simple, and always comforting.
We received an assortment of vegetables from our friend who works his own farm. My line of reasoning to discern the best use for the produce went something like this.
"Eggplant would make a darling little portion of Eggplant parmigiana, but it's too hot to turn the oven on. Parmigiana reminds me of Caprese, less the heat. Summer IS Caprese salad. Oh goodness, I want fried eggplant though. Ok, let's just stack the eggplant on a vertical Caprese salad."
I sliced the eggplant first.
James recommended using Panko in lieu of regular bread crumbs for breading because it gives the otherwise soft vegetable a nice crunch. Coat each eggplant slice with egg, followed by Panko and set aside while the oil, (I used canola), heated through in a shallow pan.
I dropped the Panko breaded eggplant into the hot oil and it began to sizzle over medium-low heat, as that indistinguishable "fried" smell I know and love permeated the kitchen. It brought back vivid imagery of meal times at home or at Nana's when I was a growing, hungry little girl.
Gently press your thumb into the center of the unheated side of the eggplant. When it is soft and warm, flip with a fork or spatula. Fry for an additional few minutes on the other side and check for desired doneness, and brown color.
I sliced the beautiful tomatoes as thin as I was able. Tomatoes still give me a little trouble and James doesn't trust me yet with his extra sharp Chef knife; I don't necessarily blame him. Before I purposed the tomatoes into the stacks, I paused to take in just how bright and inviting they looked, in red and yellow hues.
Once the eggplant cooled, I lightly salted each slice as I did not season the Panko. You can season the Panko before coating the eggplant if you wish, but I like biting into the coarse sea salt.
I don't have an advanced grasp of flavor profiles. The complex concepts I leave to James, the actual chef, to execute until I can learn them. For me, salt, pepper, and olive oil are the ingredients I consistently use. Flavorful basics speak for themselves: bread, cheese, vegetables. I've said time and time again I could live on bread and cheese alone, and a cantaloupe every so often. (and chocolate, obviously.)
This refreshing summer fare came together as easily as playing with building blocks. Eggplant, tomato, mozzarella, eggplant and so on. I drizzled each stack with extra virgin olive oil, added a touch more salt and pepper, and adorned with basil and balsamic reduction.
We ate outside, without utensils, and licked our olive oil soaked fingers clean.