- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Eggplant may be with us year-round, but only in the summer months does it begin appearing at farm stands and markets near our homes.

Should you find it grown near you, buy some no matter what the variety: big and shiny purple-black, sleek and white, or those slender purple, white or mottled Asian eggplants that meld into most any recipe. What you’ll notice about fresh eggplant is that the skin is shiny, not too tough to peel with a small paring knife and that when cut open, it has few or no seeds.

Get ready for some delicious eating because this is perfect eggplant. The absence of seeds means a sweet and not bitter eggplant. Fry it, grill it, saute it or try it in one of my favorite recipes.

This eggplant Parmesan is quick to prepare because it uses a bottled tomato pasta sauce. The key is frying the slices in an egg batter first before laying and baking. It is delicious on day one and amazing on day two, heated between two slices of bread for a hot eggplant Parmesan panini.

Five time-shaving ways to enjoy eggplant

• Peel and slice into sticks. Dunk in a batter made of half flour, half water. Fry in hot oil until golden, salt and eat.

• Peel and slice a small eggplant. Dip in beaten egg, then dredge in cracker crumbs and pan-fry in a little oil until golden on both sides.

• Peel, cut into cubes and cook in a little water until soft. Drain, mash and season with salt and pepper, butter and eggs. Turn into a casserole, top with cracker crumbs and Parmesan cheese and bake until bubbly.

• Peel, slice and spray the eggplant with olive oil. Grill on both sides until crispy.

• Roll up grilled eggplant slices around cubes of mozzarella cheese or pitted Kalamata olives for delicious summer picnic fare.

Our favorite eggplant Parmesan

The preparation and cooking time is 22 minutes, and the baking time is 25 to 30 minutes.

1 26- to 32-ounce jar tomato-based pasta sauce

2 tablespoons dry red wine

2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press

½ cup vegetable oil, or more as necessary

2 large eggs

Salt and black pepper

1 large eggplant (1½ to 13/4 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 8-ounce (2 cup) package pre-shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese

Place pasta sauce, wine and garlic in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let simmer while you prepare eggplant.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Crack eggs into a wide shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper, and beat lightly with a fork. Arrange a double thickness of paper towel on a counter near skillet.

Place eggplant slices in beaten egg, 2 to 3 at a time; turn them to coat, then using a fork, transfer them to hot oil. Cook eggplant slices until golden brown and puffy but not cooked through, 1 minute per side. Drain cooked eggplant on paper towel and repeat with remaining eggplant slices, adding more oil if necessary.

When all of eggplant slices are cooked, remove pasta sauce from heat. Place half of eggplant slices in bottom of an 11-by-7-inch (2-quart) glass or ceramic baking dish. Pour half of pasta sauce over eggplant, spreading it out evenly with a spatula. Scatter 1 cup cheese over sauce. Repeat with remaining eggplant, pasta sauce and cheese.

Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake casserole on center rack of preheated 375-degree oven until it is bubbling and cheese has melted, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven, take off foil and let eggplant rest for 5 minutes, then slice and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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