first day of fall.
I know the emergency room like the back of my hand. I know we're always right back there every few weeks, all topsy-turvy in our bedtimes and temperaments. But then there is the occasional truly spectacular Monday, the likes of which I haven't seen in months. I know there will always be plenty of lumps and loose ends to work out, as we go about the delicate braiding and un-braiding of ourselves each day. I know, most especially, that it would behoove me to wipe the calendar clean and do away with my to-do lists and just expect the unexpected. And I do, really well, for two entire days. Until a magical night drifts onto my window sill at bedtime.
The signs of summer's end are everywhere. This week has taken a turn for the chilly. The last of the green beans have been picked. I'm culling the final tomatoes before the first word of frost. Now my kitchen sill is its own roly-poly parade of red and green and everything in between. Fall fashion is out in force, long sleeves and hoodies and that timeless male style statement, dark socks and sandals.
My cold continues to run roughshod over me. A hassle, for sure, but standard September. Not to mention a much-needed excuse for lemon bars. I might've heard mid-batch that Vitamin C isn't heat stable but ***TRA LA LA LA LA*** couldn't quite make out the facts.
September usually finds me scrubbing grout and vacuuming behind beds and emptying out the entire contents of cupboards. And the entire pantry. And the freezer. Cleaning is one of my things, especially deep cleaning, so it's no surprise that I was recently afflicted by some mad fall push. I think it's got something to do with these seasons although I can't exactly argue I'd missed the change. No worries, everything still looks a mess. I mostly re-order the insides of things.
September is fading light, at both ends of the days. Fading flavor, in all summer's melons. Probably related, I realize, just now.
Fading light and blooms are kind of a bummer, but I'll take them as part and parcel of fall. I know in two months I'll be singing a different song, but right now I'm awfully keen on twilight's blue blur. And honestly, don't you spy charm in old petals, all curled in the toes and crisp at the tips?
I'll admit last week's weather had me muttering out loud. Eighty one and humid. But it meant another batch of bare toes in the grass, and lunch outside. I can say this calmly, now, it is 68° and dreamy. On the first day of fall.
You could call it eggplant Parmesan if you wish, I do. It's not, though, not technically. I've made a proper Parmigiana before, an all-afternoon affair full of breading and frying and oil-spattered tedium. It was very authentic, and good. This is very easy, and better.
Roasting sliced eggplant, oiled and salted and blasted at high heat, transforms its texture from tough and spongy to edible gold. As is, bronzed and tender, I snitch so many slices I nearly compromise dinner. But (ahem) little gaps and torn slices matter little in a dish like this, because in the end eggplant and tomato and sharp, nutty cheese blur into one. It tastes of summer all bundled up for fall, and smells like the best of both. You can bake it at pretty well any temperature, though I usually slide it in at 350° and take it out when its sultry sweet smell fills the house. It's no substitute for summer, but it's not a bad consolation prize.
Not Really Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 63-4 medium globe eggplant
2 1/2 cups light, herbed tomato sauce*
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/3" thick
1 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1 c. panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Preheat oven to 450°. Move two racks to bottom two levels. Top and tail eggplant, then slice into 1/2" thick rounds. Toss generously with olive oil (4-6 Tbs., or as needed) and salt (2 tsp.) to coat. Spread in single layer on two baking sheets, then place in pre-heated 450° oven. Roast 15 minutes, or until most undersides are freckled with brown. Flip slices over with spatula (don't worry if some collapse), rotate trays if needed (top to bottom), and return to roast another 10-15 minutes, until reverse sides are browned. Remove and set aside.
Turn oven down to 350°.
Drizzle a little tomato sauce over the bottom of a baking pan. Place roasted eggplant slices, cheek to jowl, in a single layer along the bottom of the pan. Place half of mozzarella slices on top, then 1/3 grated Parmesan, then dollop with 1 cup of tomato sauce, spread slightly to distribute. Repeat. Sprinkle top with panko, remaining parmesan, and fling a little salt and pepper overall for good measure.
Bake 30 minutes at 350°, or the juices are bubbling and the house smells like heaven. Run the broiler 3-4 minutes to brown cheese and crumbs (watch closely), then remove. Let sit 30 minutes, then serve.
*Use your favorite basic tomato sauce here. If you don't have any on hand, here's one quick and simple template: While eggplant is cooking, saute one onion, chopped, in two Tbs. olive oil until golden, 5-8 minutes. Add one 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained of most juices. Add 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley), generous 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper (black or flakes). Simmer over low heat 5-10 minutes, to blend flavors. Adjust seasoning to taste. This produces more than you'll need in this recipe, but leftovers are lovely for pizza, pasta, etc.