Camping in the dunelands of Indiana at this time of year mean two things; mosquitos and humidity. But the forests are beautiful and the quaint area convinced us to spend more time here. The last five days of driving every day also made us hungry for some normality and for me, Italian comfort food. We’ve been living off jerky, hurriedly made morning sandwiches, and questionable midwest bar food. I’ve made sure to throw a bag of those little carrot sticks into our snack bag every day, but even those get old.
To have a day where I can plot a recipe is like heaven and since I’ve been seeing those pretty purple teardrop shapes in the markets, I can’t resist a good eggplant parmesan. But, hey, we’re camping! So, a grilled twist it is. The quick grill gives the eggplant a nice charred taste and then it’s finished off with marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and instead of mozzarella, I used cheese curds from the farm we stayed on in Iowa. We tend to think of the midwest of a food desert and the little dairy farm was anything but. They were proud of the care they took for their mid-sized herd of dairy cows. The whole family was involved and being a 7th generation farm, each member was secure in their role on the farm. We received a tour from one of the wives of the family and she led us to each section of the production. What struck us the most, was the care and consideration the cows received and how the family really did respect these animals and ensured they had a good life with the best of feed, shelter, and treatment.
While mozzarella is the classic go-to cheese with this dish, feel free to swap it in. However, the cheese curds have that same low moisture and mild flavor. Also, the farm doesn’t add the weird orange coloring to it, so the curds at least have the same whitish color.
In keeping with my goal to cook as much over an open fire as possible, I do finish this dish off in a cast iron pan over the fire. But feel free to finish in a casserole dish in the oven.
1 Large Eggplant or 2 Baby Eggplants
Lots of Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Minced Garlic
1/2 Minced Onion
1/2 Cup Chopped Mushrooms (optional)
1 Can Crushed or Diced Tomatoes
1 Tbsp Oregano
1 Tbsp Basil
3/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
Slices of Mozzarella Cheese or Cheese Curds (if you’re feeling midwestern!)
Sea Salt and Pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 425° and turn on grill to high heat. If cooking over an open fire, build fire about 30 minutes prior to cooking.
- Slice eggplant to 1/2” thick slices. Coat liberally with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Grill eggplant quickly until grill lines form, but eggplant is still very firm.
- Meanwhile, sauté the onions, garlic, and mushrooms at medium heat on the stove until onions are translucent and mushrooms are tender.
- Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, and more salt and pepper. Simmer together for 3-5 minutes.
- Take each grilled eggplant slice and coat with egg wash and then coat with breadcrumbs.
- Add olive oil to coat pan or casserole and fry eggplant quickly to brown all sides on high heat on stove or open fire.
- Add tomato mixture and top with cheese.
- Pop dish in oven and cook until dish is bubbling and cheese is melted, approximately 20 minutes. If cooking over an open fire, place cast iron pan on grill top over fire until dish is bubbling.
- Finish in oven for the browned melted cheese.