Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Baked Eggplant Sandwiches – Get’em While They’re Room Temp!

I didn’t intend for this baked eggplant sandwich to turn into yet another Super Bowl party food post, but two bites in and I realized that’s what may have happened. The reason for this epiphany had nothing to do with taste or texture, but with temperature. I’d forgotten just how truly delicious these are served at room temp, which was always how the Italians I learned this from served it.

Of course, like any normal person faced with a warm, cheese-filled anything, I ate one as soon as possible, and it was great. Golden-brown and crisp on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. However, when I went back for seconds an hour later, I got to experience these in all their cooled-off glory.

While not as crispy, they were still crunchy around the edges and featured an entirely different flavor profile. Hot salami isn’t the greatest expression of the sausage maker’s art, and you really don’t appreciate the eggplant’s subtle sweetness playing against the cheese when hot.

I’m not sure exactly why, but Italians seem to have a thing for room temperature fried foods, especially vegetables. I’ve heard Mario Batali talk about this before, but there seems to be a long tradition of letting fried stuff cool down first before eating.

Happily, this practice works perfectly for entertaining, since you can bake these off ahead of time, and put them out on a tray anytime. Whether for your Super Bowl party, or not, I hope you give these addictive eggplant sandwiches a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for each eggplant sandwich:
2 thick slices eggplant (Note: some people salt the slices to draw off liquid, which they say is bitter. I’ve done this for other eggplant recipes, but not for these sandwiches. With the breading and filling, I actually think the slight bitterness is an advantage.)
3 thin, small slices of salami
1/2 slice provolone cheese
1 generous tablespoon olive oil, divided
seasoned flour as needed (flour with enough fine salt, pepper, and cayenne so that it tastes “seasoned” when you dip your finger in it)
beaten eggs, as needed (2 eggs is enough for about 4 sandwiches)
plain breadcrumbs, as needed
1 tsp very finely grated Parmesan cheese