There's something reassuring about a tomato sauce recipe. Once perfected, it links the cook to a variety of dishes. Add ground beef and put it over spaghetti for the ubiquitous Wednesday night dinner. Add mushrooms and make the dish vegetarian-style.
Authors encourage cooks to concoct huge quantities of sauce and freeze it. Would that we all pulled ourselves together enough--not that we don't have the makings for the sauce, but the plastic containers, freezer tape, marking pen and freezer space often elude us.
Making tomato sauce need not be such an effort. When all the ingredients are combined in a very large skillet, they cook quickly--a large surface area allows for quick evaporation of excess moisture. The sauce thickens rapidly and is ready to top not only pasta, but chicken (for braising, covered, on top of the stove or in a 350-degree oven), pork chops or pork butt (often a supermarket bargain), and less tender cuts of meats (such as chuck roast).
For a lighter meal, layer the sauce with mozzarella cheese between lightly fried or broiled eggplant and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Substitute zucchini if you want, and bake the mixture for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Many cooks tend to avoid eggplant because, with breading (dipping it in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs) and then frying, it absorbs so much oil that the final product hardly warrants the calories.
An old trick taught by weight-watching Greek cooks recommends broiling the eggplant, either lightly brushed with olive oil or just plain, until it begins to brown and shrink. This way, it cooks through and doesn't become watery in an eggplant parmesan.
The following recipe may be embellished by adding fresh saute'ed mushrooms to the sauce. Alter the seasonings to taste: you may want more or less garlic, more or less basil. A teaspoon of sugar might improve your sauce. Mozzarella cheese will make the dish rich and gooey, but adds more calories in the process; when parmesan replaces mozzarella a little goes a long way--parmesan is older and stronger.
If there's extra sauce, refrigerate it for up to one week and use it a variety of ways: Try pouring it over meatloaf. This eggplant parmesan recipe calls for the "Express Lane" limit of eight ingredients. Although it has provided many with just the proper dinner, others might find pasta, garlic toast, marinated artichoke hearts or salad a welcome addition. Ditto wine.
It is assumed that every kitchen has flour, sugar, salt, pepper and oil or butter.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: Onions, garlic, canned Italian plum tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, basil, eggplant, parmesan cheese.
EGGPLANT PARMESAN (4 servings) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 4 cloves chopped garlic 2 cups Italian plum tomatoes 6 ounces canned tomato paste 1 cup water 1 bay leaf Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 teaspoon basil 2 medium eggplants 1 cup parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in large skillet and add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is transparent. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, salt, pepper and basil. Allow the mixture to cook, uncovered, until thick, about 30 minutes. Stir often to break up tomatoes. Meanwhile, peel and slice eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Place on a rack on a cookie sheet. Broil close to the heat until eggplant begins to shrink (it has so much moisture it will shrink quite a bit before it begins to brown). When it begins shrinking, flip it and broil another few minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. When sauce has reached a desired thickness, put about 1/2 cup in the bottom of a baking dish. Line the dish with eggplant slices, top with a thin layer of sauce and sprinkle with a little cheese. Repeat the process until all the ingredients are used, ending with cheese. Bake the mixture at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.