One of our biggest challenges is getting our kids to eat more vegetables. I’ve tried a number of ways to get my son to eat veggies, even if he didn’t know they were in his food. For instance, I’ve hidden squash in macaroni and cheese and stuffed ziti with asparagus just to sneak some nutrition in his mouth. Sometimes it has worked, other times it has blown up in my face and wrecked dinner.
So, as the summer months began to wane, I decided to try a more straight forward tactic: I took him to a farmers stand and had him pick out a vegetable that we would cook together for dinner that night. After surveying the various colorful fruits and vegetables, and explaining to him that an orange isn’t a veggie, he settled on an eggplant of all things.
When we got home I laid out my plan with him and he was excited to help me put dinner together. While he went out with his mother to ride his bike I started assembling the elements of what would become a twist on an eggplant parmigiana. I knew we didn’t have the time to make one like my grandmother used to, so I took the essential elements – eggplant, tomatoes, cheese – and broke it down a little differently. By the time he had come back inside I had sliced up the eggplant into rounds, made a tomato puree using a quick confit of tomatoes and garlic, as well as a garlic-herb vinaigrette.
Together we put together a breading station of flour, eggs and a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and pecorino romano cheese. He had a lot of fun dipping the eggplant rounds into each bowl and when we were all done we popped them into the oven to bake. After quick flip at the half way mark, we were ready to build our eggplant parm towers after about 20 minutes.
My son helped me with each layer as we topped the eggplant cutlets with tomato slices, the tomato puree and fresh mozzarella cheese. With the third and final layer complete, we topped off our creation with some of the garlic-herb vinaigrette and a small pinch of malden sea salt to finish things up.
As much fun as he had being involved in selecting what was for dinner and helping to prepare it, the real test would be in how well he would receive the final dish. In retrospect it was rather complex in terms of differing flavors. And while he wasn’t terrible fond of the acidity from the vinaigrette and will only consume a tomato in ketchup form, he did manage to gobble down the eggplant without fuss.
It was a great experience for both of us and I’ve used this direct approach more regularly as we continue to try to expand his horizons. I’m even happy to report that I no longer have to hide his asparagus.
How have you faced the challenge of introducing different vegetables to a picky eater?
Baked Eggplant Parmigiana Towers
for tomato confit
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 cup grape tomatoes
- canola oil, to cover
for the garlic-herb vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- 2 teaspoons basil
- salt and fresh ground black pepper
for the eggplant cutlets
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup pecorino romano
- 3 eggs, whisked
- olive oil or cooking spray
- 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
- 2 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced
- Put grape tomatoes and garlic cloves in a sauce pan and cover with canola oil (or vegetable oil), cook on low for 30 to 45 minutes
- Make garlic-herb vinaigrette using three of the six garlic cloves in with the tomato confit, then set aside
- While tomatoes are poaching, slice and salt the rounds of eggplant and allow to drain for about 20 minutes
- Pat the eggplant slices dry using a clean paper towel, then dredge first in flour, then egg and finally a mixture of the panko breadcrumbs and pecorino romano cheese
- Place the breaded eggplant cutlets on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, lightly spray with olive oil or cooking spray, then bake at 400 degree for 10-12 minutes
- Flip the eggplant cutlets over, again lightly spray with olive oil or cooking spray, then put them back in the oven for another 10-12 minutes
- While the cutlets are finishing baking, combine the grape tomatoes and remaining three garlic cloves in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth
- Pour tomato puree through a fine mesh sieve to remove any seeds or lumps
- When cutlets have cooled slightly, begin assembling the stack: spoon some of the vinaigrette onto the plate as the base, then layer the eggplant, beefsteak tomato slices, a spoonful of the tomato puree, and the fresh mozzarella to the desired height (2 is good if begin served as an appetizer, 3 is good if this is to be a main course)
- Drizzle a little of the vinaigrette on top and, if desired, a light sprinkle of sea salt to finish the dish