All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2013
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Once again, a recipe born of ingredients on hand. I had extra Japanese eggplant from my Lavash Pizza with Whipped Feta, Grilled Eggplant, Red Onions & Arugula Salad. I had lots of mozzarella & some tomatoes on their last legs. I also had a GIGANTIC bag of spinach from a recent Super King venture. I also had a container of really stale panko. From these humble beginnings – these glorious mini towers were born! Aren’t they pretty? Know that they are less than two inches in diameter. They are very cute but you would need at least 4 of these to call it a meal. The recipe here shows what can be made with 3 Japanese eggplant – namely – about 10 of these mini towers. You could recreate this using regular eggplant & larger (heirloom?) tomatoes. If you use regular eggplant – prepare it like this before working with it:
Slice the eggplant, then salt it liberally and allow it to drain for an hour or so before cooking. Putting salt on the eggplant triggers osmosis, which draws out excess moisture and the bitterness along with it. Remove any excess salt by wrapping the eggplant in a kitchen towel and pressing on the slices or cubes, which removes even more water. Pressing the eggplant also collapses some of the eggplant’s air cells, so it absorbs less oil if it’s sautéed.
I added an extremely garlicky spinach to my towers but you could skip that layer easily.
Despite the fact that this recipe requires a few steps, none are difficult & this dish will likely impress your friends & neighbors & make the other ladies in the hood bitter & resentful about your superior culinary prowess. So brace yourself for the haters.
Eggplant Parmesan Mini Towers with Fresh Mozzarella & Garlic Spinach
(Tip: When making a recipe like this, I always like to have MORE of every ingredient than the recipe calls for – just in case I use my ingredients more liberally that the person who created the recipe did. It sucks to run out of one or two ingredients when making something like this. So err on the side of having too much of each ingredient handy.)
1 jar of your favorite marinara (or my marinara) or my 5 Minute Arrabiata)
3-4 Japanese eggplant – cut in 1/2 inch slices
2-3 Roma tomatoes – cut in 1/2 inch slices
10-15 basil leaves (plus extra for garnish)
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry basil
1 tsp dry parsley
8 oz container fresh mozzarella – sliced up
1-2 cups grated Parmesan
Fresh rosemary sprigs if you want to top these as I did – but it is purely garnish
For the garlic spinach
1 lb fresh spinach – washed well
1 TBS (or less) crushed red pepper
10 garlic cloves (or less) – minced
S&P to taste
For the garlic spinach
Heat about 1 TBS olive oil in a large saute pan. Over medium heat – add the garlic & crushed red pepper. Saute about 30 seconds & then add half the spinach. Mix it around a minute or two so that the garlic doesn’t burn. When that spinach is wilted, add the rest & scoop the wilted spinach on top of it. It will all wilt quickly. Add S&P to taste. Remove from heat & drain in a colander. I used about 1.5 pounds of spinach & it reduced to almost nothing – maybe 2 cups.
For the eggplant Parmesan mini towers
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Make your marinara (or arrabiata) – if you are using homemade.
Mix the panko & breadcrumbs with the 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp each of pepper, dry parsley & dry basil. Whisk the two eggs. Spray a cooking sheet (or wire rack) with cooking oil.
Saturate the eggplant with the eggs & then drag through the breadcrumbs & set on the cooking sheet. Eventually, the breadcrumbs will get clumped up & you will have a harder time getting them to stick. Don’t sweat it. You don’t need full coverage. Or you can just add more dry panko & breadcrumbs to the mix.
Bake these at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes or until they look golden.
Using a baking pan of some kind – like this – layer the bottom with some of your tomato sauce.
Then simply stack these bad boys up. I forgot the spinach layer in my first one. Oops! It appears I layered mine in this order: eggplant, Parmesan, spinach, tomato, mozzarella, basil, eggplant, mozzarella. Carefully, skewer each of these guys with a wooden skewer broken in half. Do not push the broken end through as that might leave splinters.
Bake another 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted & golden. Place on plates, remove the skewers and serve with more tomato sauce & fresh basil & lots of freshly ground pepper.