Saturday, March 14, 2009

the perfect compromise

i'm sure it's not easy to live 
with me. i mean of course,
i'm lovely to live to with,
(right, lar?), but 
i'm probably
not always the most
fun person
to prepare
your dinner.

i don't eat red meat,
or most things associated with it,
i'm not wild about chicken
or turkey
and although
i love fish and seafood,
i can often go weeks
without making
them for dinner 
and not even realize it.

so sometimes,
i make meals more 
substantial
by adding an egg,
and other times,
i have to get creative.

larry loves italian --
i like it. 
but it wouldn't
be my first
choice
of cuisine
(or my second)
when deciding
where to dine
for the night.

so, years ago,
to bridge the italian, 
non-meat-eating
gap,
i started making this
tofu parm.

now, the thing about
tofu is that it has its devout
lovers, 
and just as determined,
haters.
i fall in the first group,
but let me tell you,
even i would want to 
spend too many meals 
eating plain pieces of
cold tofu.
they taste, mostly, like...
nothing.
so do yourself a favor 
and flavor it up. 
marinate it,
broil it,
pan-fry it.
look at it as a 
vehicle
for
sauces and seasonings.

here,
the slices are coated using
the standard breading
procedure:
flour,
egg,
then, breadcrumbs.
you really want to spice
both dry components
well, to ensure that they
do their part.
salt, pepper,
cayenne,
oregano and 
grated parm do wonders.

while, fresh toasted breadcrumbs,
are the tastiest,
i've used panko
(like in this case),
and in a pinch, italian dried breadcrumbs.
yes, i know it's a travesty. 
and, yes, i know that my
can and i could be shunned from
the culinary community just for
the admission, 
but the uncouth crumbs
do wonders for tofu.

(i'm sure the tofu would
be amazing pan-fried,
but i've always baked the
pieces. 
it's less messy 
and
feels like a less-guilty
alternative -
you'll be happy later
when it comes time 
to add the cheese.)

while the tofu
is working so hard 
to make itself
delicious, i try to give it
a hand by simmering together
a quick marinara and grating
mozzarella. 
the great thing though,
is that this recipe can be what you
make it. if you're short on time,
layer the mixture with a jar
of the best sauce you can
find and sprinkle with 
pre-shredded cheese.
and don't feel guilty.  

regardless,
the casserole makes your
house smell like
the best of italian restaurants. 
and when you pull the dish from
the oven,
hot, browned and bubbling,
it's only natural to feel
a growing impatience
that has built in anticipation - 
having to wait to take
your first bite
can be
exhausting.

i will not
go far as to
lie and say
that you will
think you're noshing
on chicken
or 
veal,
but i do think it's
fair to say
that after a couple bites, 
you won't care.
tofu parmigiana
the trick for making tofu taste good, is to drain and blot out as much of the water as possible, which in turn, helps the pieces absorb as much flavoring as possible. to do: drain tofu from container. blot with a couple paper towels. cut into desired pieces. place each piece on a paper towel; top with another paper towel and press. repeat several times and let sit while you prepare other things (get the sauce, started, set up the breading station, preheat the oven, etc.).

also, with the exception of the egg (because i finally learned my lesson - one just isn't enough), i never measure the ingredients for the breading. it dirties other dishes and is always a bit hard to predict, so i eyeball it. it's never steered me wrong.

one last thing, i usually make the parm in a 8x8 pan, but in this case i used gratin dishes. either way it makes enough for about three people, four if you're not very hungry or offer bread, pasta and salad as well. these little dishes (you would need three) are an easier, prettier way to serve, but if you're dining with family and are not concerned with appearences, save yourself the prep time - make it in one dish. and if you're feeding six, you can easily double the recipe.

1 pkg. (16 oz.) firm tofu, drained
flour
2 eggs, beaten with a few drops of water 
fresh bread crumbs or panko
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper,
oregano and grated parm
1 ball (8 oz.) part-skim mozzarella
2 oz. parm (give or take)
about 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (recipe below)

using sharp knife, carefully cut tofu horizontaly into six slices; halve slices to get 12 rectangular pieces. drain as directed above. place flour in one bowl; add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper (just a dash). place eggs in a second bowl. place breadcrumbs in a third bowl; stir in salt, pepper, cayenne pepper (just a dash), oregano and a healthy handful of grated parm. 

heat oven to 350 F. coat foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray.

using left hand, place one piece tofu in flour; shake off excess. using right hand, dip in egg, making sure to cover and shake off excess. place in bowl of breadcrumbs; make sure the piece is coated and using left hand transfer to baking sheet. repeat with remaining pieces of tofu. spray with cooking spray. bake tofu 20 minutes; turn pieces and bake 20 minutes more until golden brown. 

meanwhile, grate both cheeses.

to assemble: spread about 3/4 cups sauce in bottom of an 8x8 dish (or 1/4 cup in bottom of each gratin dish). top with half the tofu pieces (or two in each gratin dish). top with 3/4 cup marinara sauce, half the grated mozzarrella, half the grated parm and sprinkle with oregano. place remaining tofu pieces on top, in the opposite direction of the first. top with remaining marinaria, remaining mozzarella, remaining parm and oregano. coat a piece (or pieces) of aluminum foil with cooking spray. firmly cover dish. place on baking sheet. bake 25 minutes (20 for smaller dishes); uncover. bake 5 minutes more. turn oven to broil and cook 2 minutes, or until cheese bubbles and begins to brown in spots.

quick marinara
this may seem like a lot of ingredients for something quick, but most of them are already in your cabinet and the amounts can be adjusted (or the ingredients omitted) depending upon what you have. you probably will not use all the sauce for the tofu parm. the rest can be frozen.

1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. red peper flakes
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 can (28-32 oz.) cherry or plum tomatoes
1 can (6 oz.) tomato puree
2 Tbs. grated parm

in saucepot, over medium-high, warm oil with oregano and red pepper flakes. add onions and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes, or until softened and starting to turn golden. season with salt and pepper. add wine if using and cook 2 minutes. add tomatoes, breaking up as you put them in and puree. bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low; let simmer 20 minutes, or until thickened. season with salt and pepper; stir in grated parm and cook 2 minute, more.

2 comments:

Ulla said...

that looks fantastic!

brooke herman said...

ulla - thank you! there are only a few dishes often requested in our house and this is one of them.