Take these stuffed eggplant. They were quietly simmering on my Aunt Anna's stovetop in Queens the other day, waiting for me to arrive in town for the long holiday weekend.
I just didn't know about it.
"You're coming over, right?" Anna had said when I'd called from the road to check in. "I cooked."
"You cooked?" I asked judiciously, cueing up to pay the toll on the Mass Pike. "I thought we were taking you out to eat."
This was not the first time my mother's sister and I had miscommunicated. (Hint: One of us needs to invest in a hearing aid. I'll be a gentleman and refrain from stating publicly which one.)
"You want to take me out," Anna said, a bit testily I thought. "What for? I just told you that I cooked. Can't you hear?"
With age I have learned that sparring with my dear aunt, however amusing, usually proves fruitless. Besides, I'd pick her cooking over most restaurant chefs' any day.
"What time do you want us over?" I asked. "And what can we bring?"
"You come when you come," Anna told me, ignoring my offer to contribute to the meal. "We're here."
I estimated an arrival time at her apartment, which she and Aunt Rita share, then said goodbye to my aunt. However, before I could hang up the cell she was back.
"I made eggplant," Anna blurted out. "You might not like it, though."
The toll collector handed back change for a five (No, I do not have an E-ZPass, what's it to you!) and I rolled up the window and moved on.
"Why won't I like it, Anna?"
"Anna? The eggplant. Why won't I like it?"
"I didn't say you won't like it, I said you might not like it. Maybe you will. How should I know? I have to go."
These are the stuffed eggplant and the fusilli that my aunt served to My Associate and me, and Aunt Rita and cousin Joan that evening.
And this is the first of three — count 'em, three — plates that I plowed through.
Anna is a gifted cook in so many ways, but her eggplant dishes set her apart from anybody I have ever known. These stuffed eggplant, cooked in a simple marinara sauce, were light as air and damned near as good as her Old School Eggplant Parm. Which is really saying something.
Whatever gave my aunt the idea that I might not enjoy this dish will have to remain a mystery. Because no matter how many times I asked her to explain herself that evening, all she ever said was, "Shut up and eat."
Which I did. Happily.
Anna's Stuffed Eggplant
Note from Anna: "Yeah, I know. There are no measurements here. Just eyeball everything, okay. It's very hard to screw up a dish as simple as this. Even my nephew can do it."
Grated Romano cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying
Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, remove pulp and dice (do not remove the skin)
Saute the pulp in olive oil until soft
In a bowl, beat eggs and then add the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper
Add the cooked diced eggplant to the egg mix, then add enough breadcrumbs until mixture holds together (do not allow the mix to become overly dry)
Scoop mixture into the eggplant halves
In a frying pan heat olive oil then place eggplant halves skin side down and cook for around 3 minutes; gently flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time
Place the eggplant in a pot of tomato sauce and cook at a gentle simmer for around 45 minutes