SOUTHINGTON - Cherie Paisley can't stand bland.
Since she thinks just that about the taste of eggplant, she's added a couple different ingredients to her recipe for eggplant parmesan.
The first surprise addition to this classic recipe is thin slices of salami.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Cherie Paisley of Southington displays a completed batch of eggplant parmesan. To add more flavor to the dish, Paisley includes hard salami and red onions.
"I like putting salami with it because it gives it a little more flavor," Paisley said on a recent summer afternoon at her home.
Also adding a new flavor are red onions. And finally, she uses Italian-style panko bread crumbs instead of plain.
"That is my secret - don't use regular bread crumbs," she said in her recipe submission for Trumbull Cooks. She also uses that type of coarse crumb to cook fish.
Cher's Eggplant Parmesan
Submitted by Cherie Paisley
1 eggplant, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
24 slices hard salami
2 eggs, beaten
15-ounce can tomato sauce with herbs
1/2 package mozzarella cheese
Seasoned panko bread crumbs
Beat 2 eggs in a shallow dish. Add 1 cup panko bread crumbs in another shallow dish. Dredge thin slices of eggplant in egg, then bread crumbs on both sides.
Heat vegetable oil in skillet - just enough oil to cover bottom at all times. Fry 4 slices at a time until golden on both sides.
Spray medium-sized casserole dish. Add layer of eggplant, 4 slices of hard salami, sprinkle of red onion slices, spoon tomato sauce over first layer and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Repeat layers until casserole dish is full. Finish by adding a 1/2 package of mozzarella cheese on top.
Bake uncovered in oven until it is hot and bubbly.
On a recent visit, Paisley sliced some eggplant that came from her brother-in-law's garden.
Although classic eggplant Parmesan recipes call for peeling the eggplant, salting the slices and even placing them between heavy plates before draining the liquid that emerges, Paisley said it's not necessary to go through all that for her recipe. She neither peels nor smushes them.
Paisley breads the eggplant - the part she says takes the most time - by dredging them in egg and then breadcrumbs then frying them in oil. She does four at a time, then places them in a sprayed baking dish and gets another four more slices started frying. Over the first four, she places the other ingredients and gets ready to do it all again.
"Usually as you get a layer done, it's time to flip it," she said. "Like an assembly line."
After the layers are complete, she places mozzarella on the top and bakes the dish, which comes out in four perfect little vitamin- and fiber-packed eggplant stacks.
Paisley, at 54, says she loves to cook. She watches the Food Network and has piles of printed recipes just waiting to be tried. She calls herself a "domestic engineer," adding that she was blessed to be able to stay home with her children while her husband, Rick, worked at Delphi.
Now that the children are gone and married, with a son in Maine and a daughter nearby, she has plenty of time to experiment.
She and her husband enjoy each new recipe in a front porch they call the "Hatteras Room." Hanging on the wall is a shell of Horace the Horseshoe Crab, and he is joined by abundant images of lighthouses, another outdoor passion besides the butterflies, which decorate the kitchen. The kitchen features butterflies on the window, the floor rug, in sizeable magnet form on the refrigerator and even on the lightswitch covers.
With the children in tow, the Paisleys would hunt for lighthouses to capture in photographs each summer. Now, she and her husband travel with a tandem bicycle, and they visit Ocracoke, also in the Outer Banks.
Back to the breezy front porch adorned also with shells, fishermen's net and the occasional tiny two-seat bike. The eggplant Parmesan, served with garlic bread and a side of watermelon, is a tasty dinnertime treat.
Paisley also likes to bake - shoofly pie and strawberry are among her favorites. She said her kids like coming home to enjoy her culinary creations. She makes lasagna with broccoli in it, and she's made stuffed flounder with crab meat, which was "very pretty."
An experiment now and then does fail. "Don't ever make sweet potato meatloaf," she advises.