Meatless Monday: Eggplant Parm Stacks

By: Patty Lee
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Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

With a winter that feels extra long and extra chilly — thank you, polar vortex — we’ve spent most of the season hunkered down with our coziest recipes, including this one for Eggplant Parm Stacks. Leave it to comfort-food queen Rachael Ray to transform the homey Italian casserole into crunchy, cheesy towers that you can attack with a knife and fork or pile into a delightfully messy sandwich. Layers of roasted tomatoes, gooey melted mozzarella and basil give the stacks their distinct parm flavors without overwhelming the meaty discs of panko-coated eggplant. Satisfying and nostalgic, this twist on a classic will warm you right up from the inside out.

6 roasted or peeled tomatoes with their juice, chopped, recipe follows

2 medium eggplants, sliced into 1/2 inch-thick rounds (about 2 pounds)

Salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped or thinly sliced
1 small chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped, optional
1 sprig fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup corn meal, a couple of handfuls
2 teaspoons fennel pollen or ground fennel seed, optional
Vegetable oil plus Omega-3, for shallow frying
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bundle fresh green or red chard, washed, stemmed and shredded
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Roasted Tomatoes
24 ripe organic vine tomatoes or large plum tomatoes
Several cloves garlic, crushed
Extra-virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling

Directions:

Set aside or prepare the roasted tomatoes.

Salt the eggplant and drain in colander, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a little extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, chile pepper, if using, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and sweat the onions 10 to 15 minutes, until very soft and sweet. Add the roasted tomatoes and stir, then let the sauce thicken 15 minutes, uncovered over medium heat.

Cook's Note: The mixture should be very thick.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

While the sauce cooks make a breading station (3 sections) for the eggplant: flour, beaten egg, and panko bread crumbs mixed with cheese, corn meal, and fennel. Coat the eggplant slices in order and arrange on a plate. Heat a thin layer of frying oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet over medium to medium-high heat and cook the eggplant 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Drain the eggplant on a cooling rack, wipe out the skillet and repeat. Sprinkle the hot eggplant with a little salt. When all of eggplant has been cooked, wipe the pan clean again and heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in the skillet over medium heat, add the garlic and stir 1 minute. Add the greens and wilt them, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Turn off the heat. Build stacks on cooling rack placed over baking sheet: eggplant, chard, tomato-onions, basil leaves, mozzarella, and eggplant. Place in oven 5 minutes to melt the mozzarella. Serve immediately.

For the tomatoes:

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Arrange the tomatoes on a baking sheet or baking sheets in a single layer. Scatter the garlic among the tomatoes, dress with extra-virgin olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes until they burst and skins split and begin to char, about 30 minutes. Cool the tomatoes until cool enough to handle and peel. Place the tomatoes in a bowl.

More Meatless Comfort Food:
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