Bring Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the table with prayer and a nice eggplant parm

Stained glass window from St. Elizabeth, Avon, NJ. Jeanne Scarpato photo

Sad to say, I grew up with a hearty dose of Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel envy. As residents of the Bayshore, we kids were never among the hordes of little ones crammed into station wagons for trips to Brooklyn to attend the astounding giglio festivals that are hallmarks of the event.

We were some times packed up in our station wagon and trucked by to Newark for the Feast of St. Rocco where massive amounts of Italian goodies were consumed against a backdrop of music from Italian brass bands. But some how,  Grandma (who was in charge of all such events) never made attendance at Mount Carmel feasts mandatory.

Still, if I recall right, on occasion, she did cook for the feast of Mount Carmel at home, featuring her recipe for eggplant parmigiania – a reflection of the annual market season and her prediliction for fresh produce. I remember distinctly how the vegetable man would sweep through her Newark neighborhood in his truck ringing his bell to alert everyone that the summer market season was underway. It was from Grandma that I learned the dictum to eat seasonal produce whenever possible and leave the canned stuff on the shelves. I think though that she would have found today’s frozen veggies an acceptable substitute.

If you can’t trek off to the giglios in Brooklyn or a celebration in your own parish, check out this wonderful website on all things Marian which features the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel today

And, since it’s Friday, in homage to Grandma who always liked a meatless meal, here’s an adaptation of eggplant parmigiana minus the heaps of sausage and chopped meat I usually add to the recipe.

Meatless Eggplant Parmigiana

Ingredients: 2- 1/2 lbs. fresh eggplant from the market; 1 cup flour; 5 large eggs; 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese; 1 tsp. shredded, fresh basil; 2 cups good vegetable oil; 12 ounces Mozzarella cheese; home made tomato sauce.

Ingredients for the sauce: 2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes; 1 (28-oz) tomato puree; 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste; 1/3 cup olive oil – it need not be extra virgin; 4 cloves crushed, fresh garlic; 1 tbsp. fresh shredded basil; 1 tsp. oregano; 1/ tsp. thyme; 1 bay leaf; salt and pepper to taste.

Ingredients for the sauce: heat oil in a large skillet with the garlic until the garlic is light gold; add the can of paste and lower the heat, then add the basil, oregano, thyme and saute for 5 minutes. Add the other 3 cans of tomato, mix. Fill one of the emtpy crushed tomato cans with water and add that to the skillet. Mix in the bay leaf, fresh basil, salt and pepper and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Directions for assembling the parmigiana: peel the eggplant and cut into very thin slices, lightly salt and let rest for about a half hour. Then, squeeze the eggplant between to heavy saucers to get out as much water as possible. Beat the eggs with 1/2 cup of water and then mix in the basil and 1/2 cup romano cheese. Heat the oil, put flower in a large plastic baggie and put 4 pieces of eggplant in the bag at time, shake gently, coating the eggplant. Dip the eggplant in the egg and cheese batter and then place each slice into the frying pan, brown each side until it is golden. Place on paper towels to drain. Then, in a large casserole dish, layer the eggplant with sauce and grated mozzarella until the square pan is full. This should yield four layers of eggplant parmigiana. Then top with more mozzarella and grated cheese. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the top layer is brown and bubbly.


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