Comfort food means many different things to many different people. For some, it may be macaroni and cheese, cookies and gravy, and casseroles. For others, it could be anything from tacos to spanakopita to chicken noodle soup. If you grew up with it and feel right at home with it, it may be your comfort food.
I have a few different comfort foods, but one of my favorites is Eggplant Parmesan.
This will always be my favorite dish in an Italian restaurant. There could be thousands of other options available – pasta, pesto, pizza, polenta, and a bunch of other things that didn’t start with the letter “p” – and yet my order would never change.
I am so familiar with many different foods from many different cuisines. Once I’ve decided on a favorite, it doesn’t change – something that sometimes annoys my mum, but what can I say? i know what i like
Speaking of my mom, when she realized I wasn’t going to give in to my love of “aubergine parmalade,” she started making it at home—only healthier, baked rather than fried. There’s always a bag of frozen homemade slices in her freezer, ready for me to pop in the toaster and dip in marinara sauce for a delicious afternoon treat.
With the finale approaching, I needed that comfort. So this week I tackled aubergine parmalade at the “Weekly Veg”.
There are dozens of different eggplant parmalade recipes online, but just like last week, I’ve settled on a 15-minute version — one that’s fried instead of baked. I wanted the true Aubergine Parma experience without the true Aubergine Parma cooking time.
It’s a ridiculously simple recipe – eggplant, gravy, breadcrumbs, cheese and an egg (without the plant). There are no frills with this recipe, which is another great hallmark of home cooking.
In fact, it was so easy that, apart from the eggplant, I already had everything I needed at home. Or at least I thought so. Turns out I didn’t have mozzarella cheese, but I did have white American slices, which I (blasphemously) prefer anyway, so… accidental substitution.
The only other change I made was less of a change and more of an addition. A small Italian restaurant that existed next door to my house during my childhood, Bella Italia, has long since met its creator, but I will always remember how they served their eggplant parmesan: with a heaping side of spaghetti. I happened to have a box of angel hair pasta in my pantry, so I made that too—just boxed pasta and marinara in a jar, but a quick and easy five-minute side dish.
Of course, this experience wasn’t without its hitches – the recipe was a little trickier than it looked. I burned the first few slices of eggplant and had to fiddle with my stovetop to get the right temperature. The eggplant soaked up the oil much quicker than I thought it would, letting me add more and more to properly fry it.
But I eventually got the hang of it, and soon had a plate with three slices of eggplant parmesan, deep-fried to a perfect crispy meat and topped with American cheese, parmesan, and tomato sauce — plus a heaping side of angel hair pasta. On a Sunday night in a timeframe reminiscent of Sunday dinners from my childhood, I happily dug in.
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Unfortunately, as I quickly learned, it’s hard to live up to your memories.
This recipe calls for eggplant slices that are ¾ inch thick. Although I found it a little strange slicing them so thick during my prep time, I’d dutifully followed the recipe – but it was way too thick for the thin amount of breadcrumbs that ended up sticking to the outside of the slices. To make matters worse, my constant adding of oil to fry the breadcrumbs perfectly golden brown had only served to allow more oil to seep into the eggplant, almost making them wet.
Aside from the thickness and soggyness, the flavors were fantastic. I cooked with panko breadcrumbs, which turned out nice and crunchy, and the recipe calls for the addition of red pepper flakes to the sauce, which add a perfect little spice kick. It was also a filling meal, especially with the angel hair side. But next time I will definitely cut the slices thinner and bake instead of frying.
My mother was right all along.
After putting the last bite of moist eggplant and plain pasta in my mouth, I came to a realization. With two lower ratings in a row, the Weekly Veg didn’t serve the purpose I started it for: to provide college students with cheap, easy, and varied recipes that were also delicious. I met those first three requirements quite well, but why wasn’t I enjoying the meal as much as I had hoped?
Days of reflection later, I’ve decided the answer is: I’ve focused so much on recreating recipes I already know I love – Philly Cheesesteaks, Eggplant Parmesan and Githeri to name a few – that I haven’t left my comfort zone as much as I would like.
With that, I promise you that the next Weekly Veg recipe will be new to both me and you.
And as always, do you have a recipe you’d like to see featured on The Weekly Veg? Email it to me and I’ll be happy to test and rate it.