27 June 2008


For the most part, I grew up without a garden. Although my mother was an excellent cook and my parents loved vegetables, we lived in the woods for most of my childhood, making a garden nearly impossible between the hungry wildlife and the lack of direct sunlight. One year my tomato-loving father was determined to grow a couple tomato plants. He planted them right next to the sunny side of the house, assuming the plants' proximity to the house would deter foraging animals, and he looked forward to eating fresh homegrown tomato sandwiches. One late summer afternoon my mother looked out the window and discovered a groundhog happily chomping away on the ripest tomato. She hurried outside to scare away the critter, but it defied her best attempts to frighten it by yelling and threatening it with a handsaw. Instead, it merely cowered under the tomato plant and kept munching. She gave up and returned to the house, and my father stopped trying to grow produce in the woods.

Not only did I grow up without learning how to garden, but I also seem to have inherited my mother’s lack of a green thumb. Like her, I have not had much luck keeping houseplants alive. For example, as a fan of fresh basil, I bought a basil plant last year and transplanted it into a nice pot. During the summer, it sat on my deck. When fall came, I moved it inside near a sunny window. All went well, and I had as much fresh basil as I wanted until Christmastime arrived and I visited family for four weeks, completely abandoning my plant, which was only a dead twig when I returned home.

This summer I’m giving plants a second try, and this time I’ve branched out to include tomatoes. I don’t have garden space since I live in an apartment, so I’m growing a basil plant and two tomato plants (Big Beef and Marglobe varieties) in containers on my deck. So far they seem to be doing well. I’m looking forward to lots of fresh basil and tomatoes later in the summer.

In the meantime thinking of tomatoes and basil made me crave eggplant parmesan, so I made some. The process of dipping the eggplant slices into flour, then the egg-and-milk mixture, then the bread crumb mixture may seem tedious, but it’s the best method I’ve found of getting the heavy crust that I like on the eggplant. Once you have the assembly line set up, it’s not so bad. I like to serve eggplant parmesan with spaghetti or angel hair with tomato-basil sauce, garlic bread, and a classic green salad.


½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 eggs
1-2 tablespoons skim milk
¾ cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
Olive oil for frying (about cup)
Nonstick cooking spray
1½ cups tomato-basil pasta sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1. In a shallow bowl, stir together flour and salt. In another shallow bowl beat together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk, reserving the additional egg and milk in case you need more egg wash. In a third shallow bowl, stir together bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dip eggplant slices into flour mixture to coat. Dip the slices into egg mixture, then coat both sides with crumb mixture.
2. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant slices; cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Add more oil as necessary during cooking.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Spread ¼ cup pasta tomato-basil pasta sauce in the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of eggplant followed by more sauce. Repeat until eggplant is used up, ending with the last of the sauce. Top with cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbling. Top with basil. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 351 calories, 23 g total fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 910 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugars, 11 g protein.

After frying eggplant, place a few slices of eggplant between two pieces of artisan bread spread with mayonnaise and layered with sliced mozzarella cheese, fresh baby spinach, sliced tomato, and a leaf or two of fresh basil.

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