Friday 27 July
We had bought a pound and a half of little Italian eggplants from the Pepper People at last Saturday's Findlay Market, because we had a craving for the taste of eggplant parmesan; but it's summer, and we didn't want to do all that breading and frying and baking, especially on a Friday when we're tired anyway. Now, we've tried shortcuts before, and they haven't worked all that well. This time, we decided to skip the layering of the eggplant altogether, and use the basic parmesan ingredients to make a type of stew - though, in smaller amounts, this would also be fantastic as a sauce for pasta.
Take a pound and a half of large or small purple eggplants, skin them if necessary, and cut them into half-inch dice. Chop a large onion, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic. If you have nice, meaty fresh tomatoes, dice them up; but a can of crushed or diced tomatoes does as well. From the garden, collect a handful of fresh oregano and a half handful of fresh basil (ah, the joys of a summer garden); if the leaves are large, tear them up. If you happen to have your garden in California, collect a bay leaf from your laurel tree; unfortunately we do not, but fortunately our friend Phoebe does and has sent us a bough of real Turkish laurel, which we are treasuring with slow use.
Now, heat some vegetable oil in a large pan, and stir-fry the eggplant and onion under high heat; you hope it'll absorb less oil that way. Salt it as it darkens and gets tender; add more oil if necessary. When it's tender, lower the heat to medium/low and add the garlic, tomatoes and bay leaf and let them simmer for about a half hour, until the tomatoes are broken up and sauce-like.
While that's been going on, you have grated some parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, and cubed up a bocconcino or two of fresh mozzarella; we used one, plus a chunk of the Asiago pressato we got in Tennessee, which proved to be a great buy, more savory than the usual American fresh mozzarella. When the eggplant is very tender and the tomatoes properly saucy, shower them with the parmesan and the fresh oregano and basil, and cook them a bit more. Taste and adjust the salt, and add pepper if you like; then, at the very last minute, stir in the cheese chunks, and serve it into bowls (or onto a heap of pasta) immediately - you want the cheese to be still chunky in the stew, not completely melted.
This did what it was intended to do, and hit the Neapolitan spot.