One of my best non-recipe experiments in the past year or so was my eggplant parmesan-inspired dish. The title of this post is the closest I could come to an appropriate name for them. I think it fits pretty well.
As the story goes, I had an eggplant, and I was thinking of just roasting it, but then I decided I really wanted to bread something, and eggplant would work perfectly! I sliced the eggplant into slices of fairly even thickness, although they were not exact, because if I don’t like going to the effort of using recipes, you can bet that I don’t usually bother to chop or slice things exactly evenly. Once sliced, I put the pieces through a typical dredging (flour, egg, breadcrumbs) and laid them on a foil-lined baking sheet.
The breadcrumbs I used were seasoned, and I believe they also contained cheese. I then mixed in some parmesan cheese (the crumbly kind) to make it even cheesier. I drizzled olive oil on top of each piece, trying to be liberal with it without drowning them. The point was to make them nice and brown on top, not to make them soggy.
Side note: I think it would certainly be possible to eliminate the cheese and egg from this recipe and make it vegan! (Is there a vegan egg substitute?) It should still be pretty tasty.
The whole baking sheet when into the oven, somewhere around 400 degrees, for 20-30 minutes (I honestly can’t remember now), until they were nice and browned on top. If you decide to try this, they’re done when they look done. Eggplant doesn’t take that long to cook.
In plating, I decided to top them with a little of tomato sauce from what I think was the best batch I’ve ever made (it seems the secret is adding more salt). Overall, I’d say they came out perfect. The one complaint is that they cool pretty quickly. Luckily, they still taste good that way.
Forgive the photo quality. I’d love it if there was a really clear picture of this, but it’s pretty hard to to that with my phone’s camera. In any case, this should give you an idea of the resulting product. I ate it for dinner, as well as some quickly pan-fried slices of the same eggplant that wouldn’t fit on the baking sheet, but I think it could also be a great appetizer for a dinner party. Whenever you decide to eat it, just remember to try to get it crisp! It just adds a little extra something.
(Success, hell yes!)
This one needs a disclaimer; I made this about three weeks ago, so I’ll try to remember as well as I can what the process was, but I’m sure I will have forgotten by now. Also, this is NOT a recipe, so if you want to make this, I’d recommend looking up a basic mac and cheese recipe and adding the veggies to that.
So. There I was, with this whole eggplant that needed to be used up, and all the necessary ingredients to make a cheese sauce. I had a box of medium shells (so technically, it was shells and cheese, not macaroni). Also on hand were tomatoes, broccoli, and breadcrumbs. I figured that at worst I would end up with a pasta bake, and it would be edible as long as I didn’t burn it. So I just went for it, totally blind. No recipe.
I did glance at a mac and cheese recipe for reference to what tempt to set the oven to, but other than that I was just improvising. I have read mac and cheese recipes, I’ll admit, so I may have remembered a few things from them. However, I’ve made cheese sauce for pasta several times now, so I had a good idea of how that worked. (Practice is the absolute best way to learn to cook! Who knew?)
The first thing I did was saute/steam the eggplant and broccoli while boiling the water for the pasta (and preheating the oven). The last thing to get cooked would have to be the cheese sauce, as its consistency would not keep if it had time to cool. The tomatoes would go in uncooked, just before it was all stuck in the oven.
There’s my big pot of broccoli and eggplant (and steam). Nice, no? Once they were cooked I took them off the heat, and the pasta was still cooking as I started the sauce.
The cheese and butter all combined eventually, but at first, they were just giant clumps in the milk and cream. Melt the butter in advance if you want to avoid that, but the trick, really, is to make sure the heat is right (low-medium) and just keep stirring, slowly. If you’re persistent it will all smooth out. I mean, I added what was probably several cups of cheese, pretty much all at once, so it’s no wonder it all just kind of clumped together in the milk soup.
As the sauce cooked, I put everything else together in a large baking pan. As soon as the sauce was fully combined and of the right thickness, I poured it over the veggies and pasta and mixed it all to coat everything with cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.
Looks really good! At this stage I sprinkled breadcrumbs on top in a generous amount, and finished it with some more shredded cheese. It went into the oven and cooked for something around 1/2 an hour.
I’ve got to figure out panko breadcrumbs, because the nice browned parts you can see on top were due to the cheese. The breadcrumbs did not get crisp or browned, unfortunately. Any tips?
The verdict: OMG. For my very first try at homemade mac and cheese, without using a recipe, I was amazed at how well it turned out. The only thing I would have wanted to be different was that it wasn’t cheeeeeesy enough. More/creamier sauce would have done that, but it was so good that I couldn’t regret how it had turned out. I enjoyed it with some wonderful dinner rolls from When Pigs Fly.
I had about 6 more meals from this, because, as you could see, I made a very large amount. As leftovers it’s not quite as good, because, as you might know, reheated pasta gets a little bit chewy, and the cheesy parts were a bit thicker as well. Still very tasty, of course, but I would recommend making this for at least two, if not 4-6 people, or a much, MUCH smaller amount. I used a whole entire box of shells, a whole eggplant, a crown of broccoli, and a handful of tomatoes (I’ve been liking Campari lately).
All in all, this one is filed under “success.”