OCI’s recipe for eggplant Parmesan

At the October Country Inn, one of our most requested recipes is for our eggplant parmesan.  The way we prepare the eggplant–baking instead of breading and frying –makes for a quite different result.  People who don’t like eggplant often love this dish.

This dish consists of two basic operations:  making the tomato sauce, and baking the eggplant.

If you’re going to go to the work to prepare homemade tomato sauce, you might as well make a bunch of it.  If you have a big enough pot, make a double batch.  Divide it up into quart containers, or freezer bags and It keeps for months when frozen.  Here’s the ingredients that you’ll need for a single batch:

  • 3 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 18 oz tomato paste
  • 4 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 lbs. 7 oz. whole, peeled roma tomatoes (#10 can)
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons kosher (or other gourmet) salt
  • Black pepper to taste, freshly ground

Over a large (about 8 inch diameter) wire strainer, placed in bowl large enough to hold it, take each of the whole roma tomatoes, hold it over the strainer, split it with a thumbnail and make an effort to remove the seeds by wiping them out with your fingers. Seeds impart a bit of a bitter taste to the sauce but don’t go crazy trying to get every last seed.  Place seeded tomatoes on a cutting board (helps keep the mess to a minimum if you place the cutting board inside a 12 inch by 18 inch shallow baking pan).  Repeat until all the tomatoes have been seeded.  Discard the seeds in the strainer and reserve the juice left in the bowl.  Chop up the pile of seeded tomatoes.

Sliced eggplant ready to bake

Sliced eggplant, spiced and ready to bake.

At this point, before beginning to cook the tomato sauce, prepare the eggplant so that it can be baking while the tomato sauce is cooking.  When we bake eggplant, we do a whole case at once.  It also freezes well.  It takes about 3 medium eggplant to make enough for a 7 x 11 pyrex casserole.

Take each whole eggplant and slice in quarters lengthwise just deep enough to penetrate the skin.  This keeps the baked skins from turning into unmanageable bits of chewy string.  Cut eggplant into crosswise slices about 3/8 inch thick and place on a baking parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper, then turn each slice over and repeat.

Baked eggplant

Sliced eggplant after it’s been baked.

Place eggplant in a preheated 450 degree oven and bake without turning about 45 minutes to an hour or until they turn a deep brown.

After eggplant is in the oven, switch back to making the tomato sauce.

In a pot large enough to hold everything, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onions and cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently, for 7 or 8 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and cook for another 2 minutes stirring constantly.  Add the spices (oregano, basil, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and pepper) and stir constantly for another minute.  Add the chopped tomatoes, reserved tomato juice, and tomato paste.  Mix everything together and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for an hour.

Baked eggplant in casserole

To combine the tomato sauce and eggplant, put a light layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 7 x 11 casserole.  Place a layer of baked eggplant on top of the tomato sauce in overlapping rows.  Press the eggplant down lightly with your hand to reduce the thickness and make it more uniform. Sprinkle a generous layer of shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the eggplant layer, and about half that much shredded cheddar.  There’s some opportunity to experiment with different kinds of cheese if you like.  Let us know if

To combine the tomato sauce and eggplant, put a light layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 7 x 11 casserole.  Place a layer of baked eggplant on top of the tomato sauce in overlapping rows.  Press the eggplant down lightly with your hand to reduce the thickness and make it more uniform. Sprinkle a generous layer of shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the eggplant layer, and about half that much shredded cheddar.  There’s some opportunity to experiment with different kinds of cheese if you like.  Let us know if you hit on a particularly delicious blend.Cheese layer over baked eggplant.

Again, press the cheese layer lightly to make a smoother, more uniform layer.  Add a liberal covering of tomato sauce over the cheese, but not so much as to make puddles.  Place a second layer of eggplant on top of the tomato sauce, then another layer of cheese and a final layer of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle liberally with fresh grated parmesean cheese and slide into a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Enjoy.


If you like cheese, you’ll love Vermont

Among the many reasons to visit Vermont, is for the cheese.  The “slow food” movement is sweeping the globe. Foods, made slowly, by hand and in small batches, like we prepare them at the October Country Inn, have captured the attention of consumers world-wide. These products are in demand, and Vermont is at the forefront.

Today, Vermont supports more farmstead cheesemakers per capita than any other U.S. state and is cited as the emerging epicenter of smaller American artisanal cheese producers. Vermont is poised to become to cheese what Napa Valley is to wine.

A farmstead cheesmaker is one who makes cheese from the milk of animals (cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc.) on the same farm. Dairy farming is a traditional source of income for Vermont. There were 35,000 farms in Vermont by the end of the 19thCentury. By the end of World War II that number had dropped to 11,000. Now, due to the rising cost of production and rise in land prices, there are only about 1,000 farms left. Today’s average dairy farm is 200 acres with 130 cows, and it’s increasingly difficult to rely on milk sales alone and make ends meet. However, making cheese from milk is far more profitable than the fluid milk itself. A hundred pounds of milk, yielding a farmer $15 to $20, can easily yield $60 to $100 worth of cheese. Also, small farms are capable of producing cheese. One cow can produce enough milk to make 1,000 lbs of farmstead cheese. A farmer doesn’t have to have 200 acres and 130 cows to make a living. By making cheese, a farmer with a small herd of 15 to 30 cows, and correspondingly less land, can make a living.

 Local farmstead cheese makers offer a variety of cheeses. The Thistle Hill Farm, (802) 457-9349, in North Pomfret, makes a cows milk Tarentaise. The Jericho Hill Farm, (802) 295-5333, in Hartford, makes cows milk jack and colby cheeses. The Cobb Hill Farm, (802) 436-4360, in Hartland, makes cows milk Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. The Spring Brook Farm, (802) 484-1236, in Reading, makes cows milk Tarentaise and Raclette cheeses. The Woodcock Farm, (802) 824-6135 in Weston makes sheeps milk cheeses. All these farms invite visitors to tour their farms by previous arrangement.

 Many of these and other Vermont farmstead cheeses are available in local retail markets. The Woodstock Farmer’s Market carries many different local farmstead cheeses. Local cheesemakers also sell their cheeses at local outdoor Farmer’s Markets. There’s a Farmer’s Market on the green in Woodstock on Wednesdays, in Ludlow on Fridays, in Mt. Tom (Woodstock) and Norwich on Saturdays, and in Hartland, and Quechee on Sundays.

 Whether or not you come to Vermont for the cheese, be sure and sample it while you’re here.