Something Old, Something New

Kale rapini. Photo by Keri White

When I was rambling through the produce section of my local grocery store, eggplant called my name.

Given the topsy-turvy weather of late, I wasn’t sure whether I would be grilling it summer-style or doing something warming and hearty in the oven, but I knew I had to have it. As it happened, the recent cold snap suggested eggplant Parmesan, a retro but oh-so-tasty main. I went old school, making my own marinara sauce for the layers, but there are plenty of good-quality jarred options on the market if time or inclination dictates a need for convenience.

On the other end of the continuum, i.e. “the new,” I have discovered a delightful vegetable: kale rapini. This seasonal spring treat results when kale plants flower or sprout, delivering a blossom that resembles broccoli rabe or broccolini in appearance, taste and texture.

I have referenced my husband’s aversion to kale before, and this is one type that he truly likes. Full disclosure: When I served it I didn’t use the “k word,” preferring to let him draw his own vegetal conclusions. When I finally came clean, he was quite shocked. In his defense, he has admitted to enjoying this new (to us) vegetable, which is mainly available at farmers markets these days, and he is happy to see it on the table when I can find it.

Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4

The amounts below are approximate — you may need additional eggs and breadcrumbs to coat all the slices — and don’t scrimp here. I got lazy at the end of my batch, not wanting to crack another egg for four measly slices of eggplant and, as a result, the top layer did not cook properly. Let my error be a lesson to you!

This can be made ahead and left in the refrigerator for a day or two before baking or frozen for several months.

1 large eggplant
Salt for draining
2 eggs
1 cup Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs
Oil for frying (approximately ½ cup total)
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup ground Parmesan cheese
1¾ cups (approximately) marinara sauce (recipe follows, or a good-quality jarred version)
Fresh basil or parsley, chopped, for garnish, if desired

Slice the eggplant into thin discs and place it in a colander in your sink (peeling is optional; I did not). Toss it generously with salt, and let it sit for 30 minutes until the slices begin to “sweat.”

While the eggplant sits, make the marinara sauce (see below).

Rinse and drain the eggplant, and dry it with paper towels.
Set up two shallow bowls side by side. Crack the eggs in one and place the breadcrumbs in the other.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of oil in the pan to fry the eggplant slices.

Whisk the eggs lightly with a fork, and dredge each eggplant slice in the egg and breadcrumbs. Place them in the skillet, and brown each slice for about 2 minutes per side.

In a square baking dish (approximately 2 quarts) place a thin layer of marinara sauce.

Place the sautéed eggplant in a single layer on the sauce, and sprinkle with the mozzarella, Parmesan and another layer of sauce. Continue this process, adding oil to the pan as needed, until all the eggplant is used. Top it with a final layer of sauce and cheeses.

Bake it at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the top is lightly brown, the dish is heated through and, when pierced with a knife, the eggplant feels very soft. Top it with fresh chopped basil and/or parsley before serving, if desired.

Marinara Sauce
Makes about 1¾ cups

This does not need much cooking time — just about 10 minutes to get the flavors melded.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of salt
1 13-ounce box of diced tomatoes (no salt or seasonings added)
¼ cup red wine
Scant handful fresh basil and/or parsley (optional)

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil, and sauté the garlic until fragrant. Add the salt and pepper until blended, and add tomatoes, then wine. Bring it to a simmer, and cook it for about 10 minutes. Add the fresh herbs, if using, stir and serve.

Kale Rapini
Serves 4

1 bunch kale rapini, rinsed
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste, omit if no spice is preferred)

In a large skillet, heat the oil with the salt, garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add kale rapini and, using tongs, turn it over and sauté it until bright green and just tender, about 6 minutes.


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