Sunday, July 30, 2017

Eggplant Parmesan at the Paradise Cafe

Photo credit: Lawrence Journal-World

Eggplant Parmesan was one of my favorite dishes at the old Paradise Café in Lawrence. The Paradise is long gone now, but I have find memories of meeting friends there on Friday evenings. We would sit at the bar, sipping martinis while we waited for our table to be ready. After the waiter seated us we would scan the menu, deciding which of the familiar dishes we would eat that night. My choice often was the eggplant.

It was an unusual combination – a layer of pasta with marinara sauce, topped with slices of crisply crusted eggplant. No wonder, then, that I thought of making it this summer when I became a semi-vegetarian.

The trouble was, I’d never made this dish because eggplant is not easy to prepare. The slices have to be salted and left to drip in a colander while the salt draws out the eggplant’s excess water. Then the slices are dried, dipped in batter, and fried in oil. They are famous for soaking up oil, and often end up soggy with excess oil.

A beautiful, shiny eggplant in hand, I set out to find a way to prepare it without excess oil. Lots of recipes are available but none quite filled the bill. Finally I devised a plan to dip the slices in beaten egg, then  into seasoned flour, put them in an oiled sheet cake pan, drizzle the tops with olive oil, and bake them.

All the recipes instructed me to peel the eggplant, but I tried to use my sharp peeler to no avail. With badly damaged arthritic hands, I just couldn’t peel the skin. A quick consultation with Mr. Google, my reference librarian, revealed the important fact that virtually all of an eggplant’s nutrition is in its skin! That settled it so I proceeded to slice and bake my eggplant with its skin intact.

Using jarred pasta sauce, fresh basil, and shredded cheese, I built layers of baked eggplant. The slices browned nicely in the oven with very little oil.

The final result was tasty served over pasta for the first meal, then over polenta for the leftovers, but it wasn’t as good as the dish the Paradise Café served.  How I miss that place! I hear there's a Paradise Cafe and Bakery Cookbook now. That's my next quest. I would buy it just for the eggplant recipe.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

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