Pie-a-Day #47: Eggplant Timbale

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When is a pie not a pie?  Probably when it’s not in a crust or made in a pie pan, but I was out of town so I’m hoping you’ll let this count.  If not, then it’s just another idea to share. While up in Oregon my cousin Norma decided to make one of my recipes from Cucina Fresca, basically an eggplant parmesan layered within a “crust” or “skin” of eggplant slices.  It makes a beautiful presentation, taking a humble homey dish and giving it some presence.  We ran into a problem when there weren’t enough slices to both accomplish the layers and the skin.  Norma was about to go to the store to buy another eggplant, and then come back slice and grill all over again, when I said,, “Let’s just go down to Barking Dogs Farm and get some of their beautiful chard.”   At first she didn’t understand.  Then I gave a few reasons.  We would use all the eggplant to create the layers of the timbale.  Blanched chard leaves would be used to create the “skin”.   Here were my reasons.
1.  The farm was closer than the store. 2. It’s a lot easier to blanch a few chard leaves than grill eggplant.  3.  Faster…  4. Even more beautiful presentation.
Barking Dogs Farm
I find that this kind of changing up a recipe is where home cooks falter and where pros excel.  We are constantly adjusting dishes to fit exigent circumstances.  Often the home cook will want to stick to the recipe no matter what.  We ended up with a magnificent dish that would have been lovely by itself, let alone part of a huge buffet.
Eggplant Timbale

2 1/2-3 Eggplants, stem end trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/3 inch thick slices
Coarse Salt
3 cups Any Coarse Thick Tomato Sauce
1 cup all purpose flour
Olive oil for frying
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Lay the eggplant slices out on paper towels and salt them generously.  Let sit for at least 15 minutes or until beads of water gather on top of the slices.  Dry the eggplant slices with paper towels. Lightly dredge the slices in flour, shaking off the excess. Pour the olive oil to a depth of 1/4 inch in a heavy skillet with high sides. Heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Fry the eggplant slices in 1 layer, turning once as they brown and adding more oil as necessary. As the slices brown, remove with tongs to paper towels to drain, To assemble the timbale, arrange just enough eggplant slices in an overlapping radial pattern to cover the bottom of a 2-quart souffle dish; the eggplant will come partially up the sides. Place more eggplant slices, vertically, in a slightly overlapping fashion, up and over the sides of the dish, and overhanging the edge. Cover the bottom layer of eggplant with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the sauce. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan and shredded mozzarella, Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, cutting the pieces to fit if necessary. Continue layering with sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, and eggplant until all the eggplant slices are used. End with eggplant, sauce, and Parmesan, no mozzarella. Make incisions with a knife through the layers of eggplant. Pour the beaten eggs over the layered eggplant, making sure the eggs seep through and around the layers. To create the bottom layer, fold over the eggplant slices from the sides. Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 40 minutes or until the egg is set and the timbale is bubbling hot. Let cool at least 15 minutes before unmolding. Un mold timbale onto a serving plate and serve at room temperature, Serves 8 to 10 as a vegetable, 6 to 8 as a main course.