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Four-Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

So I’m in the kitchen –all set to start the recipe when I discover I have only three cheeses on hand. Suddenly it becomes a three-cheese, not four-cheese eggplant parmigiana sandwich like the delicious one I ate recently at “Tre Piani,” in Princeton’s Forrestal Village.
OK, I can live with that, I tell myself, but whoa — then I realize I don’t have any nice crusty Italian rolls. Should have checked the larder first. So my longed-for sandwich morphs into just eggplant parmigiana, with a salad on the side. Sometimes you gotta go with the flow.

There were no complaints — we practically licked the plates. But next time I make it, I’m gonna go for the gusto and use all four cheeses, which I’ve included in the recipe below. The sandwich I ate at Tre Piani had a really sharp bite, and I’m guessing it was blue cheese, so I included some in mine. Naturally, you can use any combination or proportion of cheeses you like. Just keep Velveeta out of the picture — please.

The cheeses may make this a really rich dish, but let’s face it, they don’t do much for your hips. So I made an adjustment for calories’ sake and baked the eggplant slices, rather than fried them. Honestly, you’d never know the difference. And it may help come bathing suit season.

Four Cheese Eggplant Parmigiana

1 large eggplant
salt
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten with 2 T. milk
olive oil, to coat pan
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated blue cheese
1/2 cup grated Asiago or Fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

about 2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
(I used a good homemade sauce my brother Frank had canned and given to me)

About an hour before starting, slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Place on paper towels and let sit for a half hour. Press down on the paper towels, then turn around to the other side and sprinkle with salt. After a half hour, press down on the paper towels again, or use more to get rid of excess moisture.

Dredge the slices with flour, then dip in the egg mixture and dredge with the bread crumbs. Spread a light layer of oil on a cookie sheet and place the eggplant on the sheet. Bake the slices for about 15 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven. Flip the slices and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a heatproof casserole, spread a layer of tomato sauce and add a layer of the eggplant slices, cutting them to fit the casserole. Mix all the grated cheeses in a bowl and spread half of the mixture over the eggplant. Repeat the process – tomato sauce, eggplant slices and the cheeses. Spread a layer of tomato sauce on top to finish. Bake lightly covered in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Serves four normal appetites or two really ravenous folk.

Lunch, Locavore Style

Here’s what I consider a near-perfect lunch – a glass of wine, a hunk of bread, some good cheeses, cured sausage and pears.

We bought the cheeses and sausage at a winter farmer’s market held at “Tre Piani,” a restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey’s Forrestal Village.

The chef and co-owner of the restaurant is a founder of the local chapter of “Slow Food” so you know he cares about eating local and eating well. The three floors of the restaurant (Tre piani means three floors) were taken over by local food producers — everything from creamy gelato to baked goods to sausages and cheeses. A jazz combo provided musical entertainment.

I had no idea that such fine cheeses were being made right here in New Jersey. Valley Shepherd Creamery, located in Long Valley, N.J. had set up a table highlighting a dozen or so of its cheeses. It was difficult to choose, but I ended up with one called “shepherd’s logue,” a raw sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in herbs de provence, and a “crema de blue,” a gooey cave-aged veined cheese.

Then I spotted a table laden with sausages from a place called Salumeria Biellese, located both in Hackensack, N.J. and in New York City. They make wonderful cured sausages, including one made with boar’s meat, and the picquant Neapolitan-style one I purchased. As I was tasting a sample, it occurred to me that their name sounded familiar. Then it dawned on me that two weeks earlier, my son and I had eaten at Biricchino, a New York City restaurant. Turns out that Salumeria Biellese is right next door to Biricchino and both are owned by the same proprietor. Turns out that the waitress who served us was the woman helping set up the samples at Tre Piani. Small world.

Armed with our goodies, we headed home for a great lunch. The fig jam I made last fall would make a sweet accompaniment to the cheeses, and I still had a few slices of crusty homemade bread left from earlier in the week. A sliced pear, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and we were set for our near-perfect lunch.

Now if only we were enjoying it with a warm summer breeze overlooking the Mediterranean — that would have catapulted it to perfection.