All grown up.


What’s your comfort food?

It’s been an intense, brain-draining week and I’ve got a busy, cooking-demo-packed weekend ahead. You know what sounds pretty good right about now? A big plate of pasta smothered in meat sauce and grated Parmesan cheese, fresh from a green can. Not homemade, no I want the kind that I could order at almost any pizza restaurant growing up, served family-size for one.

Or…

…maybe a giant platter of nachos, heavily laden with salsa, seasoned, ground beef, pickled jalapeños then encased in a thick coating of cheese so gooey you can hardly pull off one chip without taking half the double-plated, fiesta-ware platterful.

But I’ve got a problem. It had been years since I’ve indulged in either, but I ordered them both recently, and they just weren’t the same. The pasta was either over or undercooked, the meagre spoonful of sauce too sugary and the cheese baked to an impenetrable crust. The nachos were dry and the toppings ran out long before I made a dent in the chips. There was just no comfort in my comfort food.

Am I complaining? Maybe, but only if these dishes can, in fact, be made better.

See it’s occurred to me that these foods haven’t changed, but that I have. I mean, have you tried a pixie stick lately?

This leaves me with two choices tonight: one, I could go order an enormous bowl of ramen, the yolk from a perfectly poached egg broken over handmade noodles. Or, I could hit the grocery store for a pound of tortilla chips, a jar of salsa, a can of chiles and a bag of shredded cheese – the Mexican blend. I’ll think I’ll download some Saturday morning cartoons to go with it.

Eggplant Parmigiana Panzanella

Serves 6

This grown up comfort food combines, crisp-spicy croutons, caramelized eggplant and a quick, home-made tomato sauce. The recipe photos shows small, Fairy Tale eggplant cut in half, but you could cut Italian eggplant into 1/2″ thick slices.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups 1” bread cubes
  • 5 tbs olive oil, divided
  • Cayenne
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tomatoes seeded and roughly chopped
  • Red wine vinegar
  • 2 medium Italian eggplant cut into 1/2″ slices (or 8-10 Fairy Tale eggplant*, halved)
  • 1/4 cup basil sliced in thin ribbons

*Fairy Tale an All-America Selection award-winning eggplant that delivers a bountiful harvest of 3-4″ long eggplants with beautiful purple striated skins. The skin is thin and the flesh sweet. Ask around at your local farm market.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375. Drizzle bread with 2 tbs of oil. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne and toss to coat. Bake about 15 minutes until crisp and lightly browned. Remove from oven and toss with 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan.
  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook until softened and beginning to thicken, about 15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher or process in a food mill. The food mill will capture the skins giving you a smoother sauce, while the potato masher will take less than 30 seconds and you can toss it in the dishwasher. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar.
  • Warm 2 tbs olive oil in a clean 12” skillet over medium heat. Cook eggplant until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn and cook 3 minutes longer. Add sauce and cook until eggplant can be easily pierced through with a fork. Serve topped with croutons, remaining Parmesan and basil.

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