Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
Elegant Appetizer Steals the Show
by Sandra Bowens
Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.
Bishop's fan club grows larger as he inspires us to cook through 66 chapters chock full of garden goodness.
After attending a cooking school in Italy last October, two things in particular struck me. Number one, It is so much fun to serve the typical four course meal and, number two, I do like eggplant after all.
Each meal we enjoyed at the cooking school started with an appetizer, moved on to pasta and then was followed by the main dish with garden fresh vegetables. Dessert, of course, was the grand finale. Nothing new to the world of dining, I realize, but I have embraced Italian meals as my preferred cuisine for dinner parties lately.
I thought the menu of my last party bordered on brilliance. I thought this in secret, of course. We began with individual eggplant Parmesans. Next came the pesto pasta, just as I had learned at cooking school. The entree of pork chops dusted with wild fennel pollen was served with a spinach salad in a lemony vinaigrette. My grand finale was a ricotta cheesecake with fresh fruit topping.
A terrific meal, indeed, but afterward no one seemed to remember anything but the appetizer. They raved about the eggplant. My precious fennel pollen all the way from Italy had enhanced the pork but, they continued, that eggplant was great. Nice cheesecake, but gosh, the eggplant!
How to prepare this showstopper
The secret to this dish is roasting the eggplant. I followed Barbara Kafka's method in her book "Roasting" and used a rather slender, perfect eggplant.
Another secret must-have is high quality cheese. Fresh mozzarella, packed in water, is far superior to that found next to the cold cuts in the dairy case. My supermarket sells this in the deli section but you will also find it at Italian markets. This is the place to find your Parmesan cheese as well. Look for a wedge you will grate yourself. Nothing pre-grated or from a can here.
I will confess to using a jarred spaghetti sauce. I have found that Newman's Own Cabernet Marinara is just right for using in recipes where the sauce is not the star.
Those are the secrets, now here is the recipe.
Individual Eggplant Parmesans
6 slices (about 3/4 of an inch thick) from a medium eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup spaghetti sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6 thick slices of fresh mozzarella
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees for at least 20 minutes.
Pour the oil into a pan that will hold the eggplant slices in a single layer. Run both sides of the eggplant through the oil as you add them to the pan. Roast for 10 minutes, turn each slice over and roast for 10 minutes more.
Remove the pan from the oven. Reset oven to broil.
Transfer the eggplant slices to a broiler pan. Top each slice with about a tablespoon of the sauce. Sprinkle the oregano over the sauce and then top each with a slice of mozzarella. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
Place the pan under the broiler. Allow the cheese to melt and become a light toasted brown. Serve right away.
Makes 6 appetizer portions.
photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau