Frank's Eggplant Shrimp Casserole
Diced squares of tender eggplant, a pile of fresh Louisiana shrimp, and all the spices that make it truly and authentically New Orleans, this dish has always been a tradition in the Crescent City. So when's the last time you put a piping hot pan of it on your table?
The first thing you do is take the eggplants (whole and unpeeled) and wrap each one individually in a sheet of aluminum foil. Then place them in the center rack of a 350 degree preheated oven and bake them for about 45 minutes or until an ice pick easily pierces them through and through. When they're soft and tender, set them aside to cool for awhile.
Then, when you're ready to begin assembling the casserole, take a 4 quart Dutch oven, place in on the stove top over medium heat, melt down the stick of margarine or butter, drip in the onions, celery, bell pepper, parsley and garlic, and cook them until they soften and wilt (which should take about 6 minutes, stirring constantly).
In the meantime, remove the eggplants from the foil and peel off the outer skin-if you baked them long enough the outer skin should come off as easily as wrapping paper; if you didn't bake them long enough you will probably have to scrape the pulp out of the skin. Either way, when the vegetable is peeled, discard the skin, chop the eggplant pulp into small pieces, and place it (along with the liquids that run from the eggplant as you chop it) into the Dutch oven. Then, over a medium heat, thoroughly fold the eggplant into the seasoning vegetables and simmer the mixture for about 5 to 10 minutes or so.
When this has been done, drop in the shrimp (if you have to use large shrimp, it is best to chop them into smaller pieces before adding them to the pot) and cook them with the eggplant for another 5 minutes. Make a note here that additional liquids will exude from the shrimp at this point, but don't worry about it. It's supposed to happen. The bread will absorb the excess liquid later. Oh-and this is also the time in the recipe that you should stir in the seasonings, either the individual spices or a preblended mix.
Finally, turn off the fire and begin folding in the bread. Notice I didn't say to add 5 cups, because you might not need all 5 cups. Actually, you should use only as much as necessary to make the dressing moist-not sticky and pasty, but not runny either. This is the trick to creating a good casserole. Then when the bread has been added and the consistency is the way you want it, evenly fold in the red and black pepper along with the Parmesan cheese. Then taste the mixture one final time and readjust the seasonings, if necessary.
All that's left now is to transfer the mixture from the Dutch oven to a buttered Pyrex baking dish, cover it lightly with a layer of the French bread crumbs, top the crumbs with a generous helping of the mozzarella cheese, and slide the dish uncovered into a 350 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the casserole is gold brown, hot, and bubbly! This is best served right from the oven, sprinkled with a little extra Parmesan cheese and accompanied by a cold, crisp green salad.
Chef's Notes: ? 1. You can use either butter or margarine in this dish. The margarine significantly reduces the cholesterol, but butter gives the finished dish a more intense, richer taste.
2. If you prefer not to use all the individual spices in this recipe, such as the oregano, thyme, and basil, you can eliminate them simply by adding 1 tsp. Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning and 1 tsp. Frank Davis Seafood Seasoning.
3. If you prefer to make the casserole the traditional Sicilian way, using Italian sausage instead of shrimp, just substitute sausage for shrimp and cook it in the Dutch oven before adding the eggplant instead of after adding the eggplant. Capice?