No more denying, this year has begun. I know, for most the year begins in January, but for me, as a parent and summer worshiper, the year begins in September along with the public school year in New York. Nerd Child went back to school first, Art Child began last week, and Man Child left for Italy two days ago.
Art Child has begun high school. I think the fact alone confirms I’m in my dotage, but in case it’s questionable, I’ll assure you I feel it. By the end of last week–three days of school–I had taken approximately 43,000 trains and climbed 9 billion subway steps bringing her to and from. By Friday, she and I both fell asleep on the couch before dinner, and she was already trying to fight off some kind of virus/cold.
Ahh, the stresses of mamahood. Man Child will be away for six months. Very exciting for him, and quite strange for me. Before he left, I guess he was feeling a bit nostalgic, because he was talking about and requesting the dishes that were staples when he was younger. I made a huge batch of basic tomato sauce, we had spaghetti one night, baked ziti another, he made a simple (and delicious) rice and beans with roasted chicken, and he and Mother-In-Law baked an early birthday present of Dominican Cake for me–guayaba filling, of course. The apartment felt very quiet once he left; he’s a young man with great energy, both of my boys laugh easy and often, and by yesterday morning I was already missing the seemingly constant simmer of something on the stove. I still had a container of sauce left, was feeling a little nostalgic myself–not to mention envious of the foods and flavors Man Child will certainly be experiencing, so Art Child and I went to the store to purchase an eggplant.
Between time constraints, dietary restrictions, generally fewer people at the table, and a shrinking capacity for standing, most of what I cook these days is a healthier and quicker variation of the dishes I used to prepare. But what the hell, one old-school dinner to kick off the start of the new school year. I purged the eggplant. Purging is slicing, salting, and weighing down the slices to draw the bitterness out–then rinse, pat, and begin your dish.
I season the flour with a little garlic powder (granulated, not the stuff that gives clouds of garlic dust) and fresh ground black pepper. Some people add their seasonings to the egg, but I find it adheres better to whatever you’re coating when in the flour, instead of sinking to the bottom of the bowl.
Use your hands and get your fingers dirty. Panko crumbs make for a lighter, crisper coating than regular breadcrumbs, but need a little help to make sure you get a nice mix on each slice, not just the grated cheese.
I like to get them a nice gold color, about 2 minutes on each side. Yes, my stove is dirty, I have no shame. Probably what tipped the scales to have me make this–it needed to be cleaned anyway.
As they finish, layer the slices on a paper towel lined and layered plate to absorb excess grease. Now try not to eat all the eggplant before you make the casserole.
Start layering. Eggplant, mozzarella, sauce, and then a little fresh grated parmigiana or romano. I prefer romano for this step.
Repeat the layers two or three times, depending on the depth of your dish. There should be enough sauce so every bite has some, but too much will leave the whole thing kind of gloppy and you won’t taste the eggplant at the end.
Bake. Not for too long, everything is pretty much cooked already. 350 or 375° for twenty minutes covered with foil, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Done.