My kitchen counters and window sills are covered with bowls full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants from the Crispy garden. There are still some herbs, greens and cabbages that will last a while longer, but we finally had a killing frost last week, so I went out and did the last harvest of the tender vegetables.
The garden experiment of covering my eggplant seedlings with an old set of sheer window curtains (50 cents at my favorite local thrift shop) was just the trick for saving the leaves from being riddled with holes from flea beetles. The curtains let in the sun and rain but kept out the chompers so the plants were able to remain strong for the first month of their long growing season and we have been rewarded with several delicate-tasting, tender eggplants on each plant.
We've lately feasted on some eggplant parmigiana and this lemony cold salad with our beautiful black eggplants, but I wanted to try something new. I was poring through my all-too bountiful cookbook library and a recipe for Hot Eggplant Sandwiches (Panini Caldi di Melanzane) caught my eye in the toothsome cookbook "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene. There's no bread in these sandwiches, but rather some thick slices of fried eggplant make up the outside with a oozing mozzarella middle inside. With a few adaptations to make the recipe gluten-free, this turned out to be a terrific hit with my handsome, hungry husband.
Here's the first batch served with a side of slow-roasted plum tomatoes with garlic and basil. The time was 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.
And here is Dan's plate at 1:35 pm. A winner!
We also heated up some eggplant panini for another meal over some corn pasta with another slather of our roasted tomato concoction. Delicioso!
The dish also worked well with thick slices of zucchini, although they were a little moister and you had to be careful when they were fresh out of the oven because the juices were boiling hot.
Hot Eggplant (or Zucchini) Panini
-adapted from "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene, with Michele Evans, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
2 medium eggplants (or 2 medium zucchini), unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
(if using eggplants "of a certain age" from the market, you might want to lightly salt the eggplant slices and drain in a colander for a 1/2 hour to remove bitter juices. If using fresh market or garden eggplants, this step won't be necessary)
1/2 cup white rice flour
3 eggs, beaten lightly
Olive oil for frying
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
Dried oregano and kosher salt to taste
Coat eggplant slices with rice flour.
Heat large frying pan. Add olive to coat bottom by 1/4 inch. When hot, fry a batch of eggplant slices at a time. Dip the floured eggplant into the beaten egg and slip them right into the pan. You want them nice and eggy so the coating puffs up and gets a nice crunch from the rice flour at the edges. Fry about 2-3 minutes per side, until golden. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining eggplant slices.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place half of fried eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Top each with some mozzarella cubes, taking care to match eggplant slices of equal size. Secure each with a couple of toothpicks. Sprinkle with oregano and kosher salt to taste.
Bake 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and oozing out the sides.
Remove toothpicks and serve hot.
We enjoyed them separately with a little tangy roasted tomatoes on the side and over pasta too.
Makes 4-6 servings (hungry husbands skew the serving portions).
This has proven to be a real favorite with our family and I can't wait to share it with friends at our next party. I would use smaller eggplants for appetizer portions.
Even though this is not a traditional bready kind of sandwich, I am sending over these tasty panini to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sundays, her weekly roundup of soup, sandwich and salad recipes.