Vegetarian: Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
In the heat of summer, our favorite dishes to cook and eat sometimes fall by the wayside: hot, hearty soups are replaced with chilled, refreshing ones; braising pans are tucked away for the season; and you can pretty much forget about any long-cooking casseroles (or turning on the oven at all). This makes sense: after all, the pleasure of eating seasonally comes from embracing the new products that flood the markets at this time of year (hello, tomatoes) and bidding a fond farewell to the produce that sustained us through the cold winter (goodbye, potatoes). And often, these fruits and vegetables benefit from different cooking methods than the ones we rely on through the winter months—or no cooking at all.
But in a few rare cases, cold weather classics can be repurposed into suitable summertime eating. In the winter, I make a curried carrot soup served hot; in the summer, I simply serve it cold. In the summer, I turn away from the apple and pear compotes that I eat warm for breakfast in the wintertime, instead preparing quick-simmered, chilled stone fruit soup topped with sour cream, in the Eastern European style. Sometimes the things we like to eat don't change with the seasons, but just need a little tweak to feel at home in a different time of year.
Take, for example, eggplant parmesan. When it's cold out, this hearty, layered dish of breaded, fried eggplant, cooked tomato sauce, and copious amounts of melted cheese really hits the spot: it's rich, filling and comforting. When it's hot out, however, this delicious treat loses its appeal (as does the idea of standing around a hot kitchen making it).
And I think that's really a shame, particularly for vegetarians: after all, what's a more satisfying vegetable than eggplant, with its creamy, substantial and flavorful flesh? Paired with bright, acidic tomatoes and rich cheese, it's a dish that definitely doesn't miss the meat. It's such a favorite of mine that I started to wonder if there might be a way to keep it on the table come summer. And that's when it hit me: grill the eggplant. Ditch the breading, and lay the slices over a hot flame that would render them soft and smoky. A lighter, less gooey cheese would complement the grilled eggplant well: fresh mozzarella would be perfect. Finally, cooking summertime tomatoes nearly amounts to a culinary sin, so I would leave them raw and prepare them like a bruschetta topping: diced small, peppery with raw garlic, and slick with good olive oil.
After having prepared this dish several times to rave reviews from family and friends alike, I can assure you it's a keeper. Actually, I think this version slightly edges out the original for me personally. Still hearty and filling, though much easier and faster to prepare, it's packed with bright summer flavors and mellowed out by the rich, buttery cheese. Eaten with slices of good bread (or tucked between a nice roll the following day), it makes a complete, dreamy vegetarian meal.
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.