Today, I’m bringing you an everyday recipe, the kind you can pull out on a random weeknight, the kind that makes an easy dinner, the kind that, I know, isn’t especially wow-worthy at first glance.
It starts with eggplant. But let’s back up first.
Did I lose you when I called it everyday? It seems like everyday things get a bad rap, you know what I mean? The everyday doesn’t see our fine china or best clothes. We don’t pull out the camera to chronicle the way it plays out (well, not unless you’re fulfilling some crazy goal). Its passing may be marked by an X on the calendar, like a road sign on the highway, just something to endure on the way to where we’re going. It’s not the Thanksgiving dinner or the big birthday cake or the homemade truffles.
But here is why it’s worth talking about, here is the secret to its value: what the everyday—be it an outfit, a hairstyle, a phone call or an eggplant recipe—may lack in excitement, it makes up for with something else, something so ordinary and unexciting that you hardly ever hear it praised, but something that it would be hard to get through life without: the everyday offers routine.
Most of life is routine, you know? Between the celebrations and climaxes of our years, we have to have a whole lot of normal, usual, quiet Tuesday afternoons.
We have to do the everyday things, talk to the everyday people, perform the everyday work. That’s what life is. I mean, it’s good that life is always changing, so that the everyday can go from three years in a desk by a window to a few new months of pulling your laptop into bed with you, but those moments of change—those culminating decisions, those things that we look back on as important—are often only forged through the miles of everyday. The everyday made them possible. We need the everyday.
And so in that spirit, we have this eggplant recipe, one that is as everyday as it gets: just a simple medley of sauce, sautéed eggplant stuffed and rolled with cheese, more sauce, more cheese and about 30 minutes in the oven. It’s like lasagna without the pasta noodles or eggplant Parmesan without the breading. When you make it the way I did, it’s sloppy, and when you scoop some out of the dish fresh from the oven, the sides will fall into the gap, making it look like you haven’t even taken anything.
You could say this recipe is nothing special, the same way 3:30 PM is, or the same way making yourself a sandwich for lunch can seem to be. But I disagree. I say the everyday things of life are some of the best parts of it. They are the places where you grow friendships and work through hard things and learn more about the world around you.
And actually, in that way, the everyday doesn’t seem so everyday at all.
Inspired by a version from Cooking from the Farmers’ Market
1 medium eggplant, trimmed and cut into slices lengthwise
Around 1 cup of tomato sauce (I used this version)
1/2 cup ricotta
3 ounces mozzarella, chopped into small pieces
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet over medium heat on the stove, saute eggplant slices in a couple teaspoons of olive oil, flipping once, cooking until tender. Season with salt. Remove slices to plate to cool.
Meanwhile, put the tomato sauce in a pan on the stove, heating until just warm. In a small bowl, mix ricotta, mozzarella, a couple teaspoons of Parmesan (or Pecorino) and parsley.
In a small ovenproof dish (I used a loaf pan—I know, random, but it worked!), spread a good amount of the tomato sauce to cover the bottom well. Take the eggplant slices one at a time and spread the ricotta mixture on the large end, rolling the eggplant around it. Place upright or sideways in the dish of sauce. Do this until all the eggplant is used, and then add some more sauce between the pieces and atop. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Pecorino, as much as you like. Bake for about 20 minutes.