There’s food and then there’s FOOD. You know what I’m talking about. Legendary foods. Foods that appear upon high Tibetan mountain tops every 400 years. Foods that can only be created when Neptune is in line with 3 of Saturn’s moons. Foods that can only be eaten after you’ve memorized and recited pi to the 10,000th decimal place without error. That kind of food.
In my family, there are a few foods that fall into this category. And despite my hyperbole, what I’m talking about are foods from closed restaurants or bakeries. Foods from restaurants that have a secret recipe Foods that are only available in far flung foreign places. Or even versions of foods that only taste amazing when eaten at their geographical location of origin. And finally, foods that were made by now deceased family members. (Sad.) One particular food that I tried to share with as many people as possible while it was still available was the storied and fabled EGGPLANT BREAD.
What the fuck is eggplant bread, you ask? Oh, sad and pathetic person to have never experienced eggplant bread, let me tell you what it is. It is eggplant glory. It is the tears of unicorns and the dandruff of angels. It is the most heavenly and delicious thing you have ever tasted. It fills you up, but it is still healthy and light. If there is any cheese, it is minimal. The tomato sauce in it is divine–made from tomatoes picked directly from the Carebear forest, I imagine. Right. So basically it is a type of calzone made of breaded eggplant covered in tomato sauce stuffed into bread and baked. For a vegetarian it is essentially manna, doused in ambrosia, stuffed into Zeus’ stomach and baked.
I have searched the depths of the internet and I cannot for the life of me find a recipe or description even coming close to what I have come to know as eggplant bread. The cute little Italian bakery where my mother first discovered this delicious treat has been closed for years. And unfortunately because of the popularity of eggplant parm, you can’t search eggplant recipes without first going through like 150 eggplant parm recipes. I can’t even figure out what it is called. I mean, I assume it has a specific Italian name? I did, however, find another vaguely local Italian bakery that makes it. But oh, it was so so so very disappointing. It just didn’t taste as good as the original one. Not even close. I guess I could find out the “how” of how they make it, but I really just want to taste the magnificence of that original eggplant bread.
THUS, I have embarked on an eggplant bread making, recipe uncovering quest to decipher the secrets of eggplant bread.
One big quandary was: what is the bread made out of? Is it made of bread? Is it made of pizza dough? Is it made of calzone dough? I remember the dough being inordinately smooth, which to me means that it contained a lot of oil. Also, it was quite bread like–fluffy and most definitely containing yeast. But it wasn’t super thick and bready, it was still thin over the top where it stretched over the eggplant. I decided to go with a pizza dough. I started up a batch of pizza dough so that it could rise while I made breaded eggplant.
Making breaded eggplant:
I sweat slices of peeled fresh eggplant by rubbing with some salt, incubating for 15-20 minutes and then giving all the slices a hardcore pat dry with a frightening amount of paper towels. Then they go into the breading triple crown dipping station of flour, egg yolk and bread crumbs. At this point you can fry them (oily) or bake them (healthier).
After the breaded eggplant comes out of the oven you have to eat 5 of them for quality control. Obviously. Then you let them cool down a bit before making your stuffed bread.
I rolled out the pizza dough and made a mound of breaded eggplant layered with sprinkles of parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano and generous amounts of THEMOSTDELICIOUSCANNEDTOMATOSAUCEEVAR. Seriously. Best tomato sauce from a jar ever. The Silver Palate brand. On sale now at your local Stop and Shop for $2.50 a jar. Down from $5.00, people! I think at some point I will try to make my own sauce (maybe from my canned tomatoes), but this whole recipe is so work intensive already, I had to make do with jar sauce. Did I also mention that this jar sauce was the most delicious sauce ever? It was. Also, I read the ingredients to see where crack cocaine was listed and surprisingly I didn’t see any but I did see that the sauce contains PEARS. Pears!! Who knew! There must be some kind of flavor and/or manufacturing reason for this. Pear was also the last ingredient listed so it must be used sparingly.
I used about 3 layers of breaded eggplant mixed with sprinkles of cheese and generous helpings of tomato sauce (I used the entire jar). Once the layers were completed I wrapped the dough around the eggplant (making a loaf shape) and then I flipped it over and let the dough proof for about 15 minutes. I brushed it will some olive oil, egg whites and milk. Then it went into the oven for 30 minutes.
Do you see that Silbread sheet under the eggplant bread? THAT THING IS AMAZING. Seriously, it is so awesome, especially for an application like this since it lets the dough bake without getting soggy AND it lets the dough cool without it getting wet from condensation underneath! A friend gave this to me as an (early) Christmas present last year and it blew my mind. It rocks hard and she does too for being so thoughtful with her eagle eyes for new Silpat items.
It took a lot of willpower not to tear into that thing with my face, but I did let it cool overnight.
In the morning I sliced that mofo.
It totally looks like eggplant bread! And it looks super delicious, if I do say so myself.
And you know what? IT TOTALLY TASTES LIKE EGGPLANT BREAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, well, it doesn’t taste exactly like THE Eggplant Bread. What am I, some kind of all seeing, all knowing Kwisatz Haderach who cooks? No. But damned if I’m not pretty shocked at hitting close to the mark. It definitely tastes more like it than the eggplant bread that I found at the other Italian bakery. I think the pizza dough outside might be right. Even though I adore the sauce, it’s not quite the right flavor. The breaded eggplant is delicious but not quite right. I should slice the eggplant lengthwise, not crosswise. I also had to use panko bread crumbs because that’s all I had. Maybe I should make my own bread crumbs? (Omg, MORE work.) I will definitely use fine bread crumbs next time even though the panko tasted good. I will also try to use less parmesan because I don’t remember it ever having a strong flavor of parmesan. After this trial run I’m under the impression that they used a lot more pecorino romano.
I can’t wait to try this again. It’s a lot of work, but obviously I don’t mind that kind of thing. I am fairly proud of myself for figuring it out this far. I hope to solidify a real working recipe within the next 3 or 4 trials. I have some other ideas for the dough. (Ooooh, ominous! You’d better watch out, dough.)
Eggplant bread! Great success! (Borat voice.)