Mother's Day reminds me of the mixture of guilt and anxiety I would face every year usually one or two days prior to the day. For sure, I would be thinking of the perfect gift for mom weeks before, but invariably I would be buying flowers that morning or trying to find the card I forgot to send or even hoping I could schedule some other appointment after dinner. It took me till she was in her late 80's to realize that all she ever wanted was to be in my company for a few hours. We (CW and I) visited the cemetery on Sunday and I thought of all that as I cleaned up leaves that were stuck in between the stalks of the wild irises I planted there. They need little care and bloom every spring setting the spot ablaze in color. I think she would love them and thank me profusely which of course, would make me feel guilty. In stark contrast, my wife's sons asked her what she wanted for Mother's Day and when she decided she needed a new watch, they told her to pick one out and they would give her the money!On the day, they called. When I asked her if she wanted to invite them for dinner, she said no because they were busy. No fuss from the lady who lost her own mom when she was 12 years old. Her only request was for me to make Eggplant Parmesan, her favorite Italian meal, and one which my mom excelled at making. No problem, hon!
As with most Italian meals, the secret is in getting the finest quality ingredients. Let's start with the eggplant. Buy either small "Italian" eggplants or a mid-sized vegetable. Just be sure the skin is shiny, without blemishes and there is no indentation in the front (which indicates a female). Females have more seeds and are thus, more bitter. You should peel the eggplant, then slice it in thin (1/4 in.) slices. Now, salt each piece with coarse salt and arrange them on a wire rack. Cover with a sheet pan weighted down with a few cans and let the eggplant pieces sit for an hour. Then, wash off the salt and thoroughly dry each piece. This will remove the bitterness.
As for the rest of the ingredients, the ricotta and mozzarella should be fresh if you can find them (If you have never tried fresh ricotta, it's worthwhile making your own), the tomatoes ideally San Marzano and the breadcrumbs Panko ( unless you have a bakery that makes their own) I won't go into how to make tomato sauce. I assume all my readers know how.I fry my eggplant for this dish. My grandmother and mom always fried theirs until mom got health conscious and decided to bake hers. I think you lose something in the taste but you are free to make that decision for yourselves. So, it's only a matter of efficiency in constructing this dish. I flour each piece lightly, dip it in egg then breadcrumbs and lay it on a sheet pan. When all the pieces are breaded, I heat a large skillet with extra virgin olive oil and fry the breaded eggplant till golden. I have another sheet pan lined with paper towels to drain the oil. After that, I put sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and build 3 or 4 layers of eggplant pieces, ricotta (mixed with some parmesan), and sauce. If you have basil, you can add a few torn leaves to your layers. The important thing here is to not smother the eggplant in cheese or sauce. This is the reason I can never order eggplant parmesan in a restaurant . They tend to overdo the sauce and cheese (not the Italian way). Top the eggplant with a few slices of fresh mozzarella and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. Thank you mom, I will always hold your memory dear.