It’s no secret that I wasn’t all that jazzed about the March cover, Eggplant Parmesan Rolls with Swiss Chard and Fresh Mint. In fact, this is one of the few times that (in the old, pre-resolution days) I would have blown off the cover recipe and not even filed it one of the three-ring binders where good intentions die.
I’ve been spending some time thinking about why, because my flexitarian status alone should have elevated my excitement level. I’ve got nothing personal against eggplant parmesan, so what gives?
The truth is, I’ve come to expect certain things from a Bon Appétit cover recipe. It will either challenge my skills and teach me a new technique, OR it has potential to be best in class (January’s cover had a shot at being the best spaghetti and meatballs ever), OR it’s a show-stopper (February’s grilled cheese and short rib sandwich made me do a double take). For me, March’s cover didn’t do any of these.
All that being said, I must admit that I had fun making this dish. And you know what? It was very well received by my dinner guests, and I really liked it, too. I’ll have the Eggplant parmesan rolls with a side of crow, please…
Okay, now for the breakdown. Three things jumped out at me about the recipe.
One, I’d be salting slices of eggplant, which I’d heard about but never done before. Kinda cool in a Bill Nye the Science Guy kind of way. You know, osmosis and all that.
Two, it called for a can of tomato sauce. That’s it. No seperate recipe for the homemade stuff, with assurances that I could double the batch and use it for baked ziti or some such. Nope, just a can-o-sauce. Not organic, not reduced sodium. Heck, not even Marzanos. I wasn’t sure whether to sing hallelujah’s or wag my finger at the obvious decline of my favorite food periodical…
Three, I was going to be squeezing water out of cooked greens - swiss chard, in this case. Lord have mercy, I thought I’d gotten out of that tedious business by foreswearing any recipe that calls for it. Between that and drying out the eggplant slices, the list of ingredients should have mentioned that you’ll need a couple rolls of the Quicker Picker Upper to get the job done.
For this cover recipe, I knew I needed guests involved, because Matt just isn’t a eggplant/swiss chard/mint kind of guy. In fact, the mint alone told me that I’d better call for backup. In his world, mint belongs in chewing gum, on a dessert plate as garnish, and in ice cream (and even that’s stretching it). So I called up my dad and my in-law’s, and as luck would have it, all three were available and up for recipe testing. To hedge my bets, I picked up some chicken breasts to marinate and grill. And since we were grilling, I threw some asparagus on, too. Sourdough bread rounded out the menu. Not bad for a Sunday dinner, I’d say – even if the eggplant bombed.
Which it didn’t. I sliced the eggplant with a mandoline, which made life tons easier (thanks, Ryan and Shana!). Then, only having one colander of any size, I decided to lay the salt-packed slices on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, to catch the moisture. And man, was there moisture! After an hour, I measured 2/3 cup of water that dripped out of those eggplant slices – I thought maybe I’d get a three or four tablespoons. Clearly that hour of prep time served a purpose. Alton Brown would be proud.
Contrary to my fears, no one found the mint revolting or misplaced – in fact, no one really noticed before I mentioned it. It was just the right amount to brighten the flavor and perk up the dish.
All in all, I must say, it was a hit. Everyone had some, and everyone liked it. Most said they’d have had it as a main entree, in lieu of meat. Matt said he liked it, but wouldn’t request it – and considering that I expected him to try a bite and reject it outright, that’s a huge win. Dad enjoyed it and said it tasted like lasagna – but added that for all the trouble, you might was well actually make lasagna. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Pop.
I still say it’s not cover-worthy, but if you make this, don’t feel compelled to grill chicken just in case. It’s tasty enough to carry a menu on it’s own.
In the end, I’m giving it a measly B. I probably won’t make it again, because between the slicing and the salting and the patting and broiling and the squeezing, it’s just not worth it. But it made my dinner guests happy, which makes me happy.
Thanks for proving me wrong, Bon Appétit! Now, how about some spring-time dessert for April? I know you’ll be doing the requisite Easter and Passover menus, but how about some rhubarb pie? Or berry cobbler? I’m crossing my fingers…