FEBRUARY 4, 2013

MEET THE SOUS CHEF

HILLARY STERLING, CHEF DE CUISINE, A VOCE MADISON

"I grew up eating bagels and lox, Chinese food, and pastrami and tongue sandwiches, like a lot of New York City kids," says Hillary Sterling, A Voce's chef de cuisine. Raised in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, the third-generation New Yorker grew up in the same house in which her father spent his childhood, and explains that although she lived in the nexus of food, her diet was still fairly limited. "I didn't even know what Taco Bell was until I went to college," she admits.

Once she began cooking professionally, that all changed. Her first job post-culinary school was at an Irish pub called O'Murphy's, where she made blood sausage and shepherd's pie; a gig with Bobby Flay (at his restaurants Mesa Grill and Bola) followed, where she was exposed to Southwestern flavors. She then turned toward Italy, spending two years at Mario Batali's Lupa, followed by a stint at the now-shuttered Bar Milano, before taking a sous chef position at A Voce.

She deploys her Italian cooking skills in the recipe for eggplant Parmesan she shared with Sous Chef Series. She uses Japanese eggplants, pan-frying the slices instead of breading and deep-frying them, then layering them with tomato sauce and mozzarella, topping the stack with crunchy breadcrumbs. Her version is lighter than most, and if you use premade tomato sauce, it comes together quickly.

TRACK THIS CHEF

Hillary Sterling's:
See Recipe See the recipe for Hillary Sterling's Eggplant Parmesan

DAY IN THE LIFE

TIPS & TECHNIQUES

The Right Eggplant

Sterling uses small Japanese eggplant for this recipe. Less bitter than other varieties, the slices don't need to be salted before using. Instead of breading and frying the nightshade, she simply pan-fries it until soft.

Cheese, Please

At A Voce, Sterling makes stracciatella cheese daily. When making this recipe at home, use the best-quality fresh mozzarella that you can find; cow's milk mozzarella is fine, but buffalo mozzarella, which is made from water buffalo milk, is particularly tangy and creamy.

MAKE THE
Eggplant Parmesan

YIELD

2 servings (plus leftover garlic oil and sauce)

INGREDIENTS

Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil, 1 cup

Garlic cloves, 15 (peeled and left whole)

Whole fennel seeds, 1½ teaspoons

Whole canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano tomatoes), two 28-ounce cans (one can drained of juice, the juice from the other can reserved)

Dried red pepper flakes (preferably Calabrian chile flakes), ½ teaspoon

Kosher salt, ¾ teaspoon

Large basil sprig, 1

Eggplant Parmesan

Extra-virgin olive oil, 6 tablespoons

Japanese eggplant, 2 (sliced on a bias into ¼-inch-thick pieces)

Garlic clove, 1 (very thinly sliced)

Dried red pepper flakes (preferably Calabrian chile flakes), ½ teaspoon

Fresh mozzarella cheese, ⅓ pound (thinly sliced crosswise into 9 pieces)

Finely grated Pecorino cheese, ½ cup

Leaves of 2 marjoram sprigs

Breadcrumbs

Extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ teaspoons

Unsalted butter, ½ tablespoon

Fresh breadcrumbs, ½ cup

EQUIPMENT

Cutting board

Chef's knife

Measuring cups and spoons

Box grater

Small heavy-bottomed saucepan

Paring knife

Small skillet

Spice grinder

Mixing bowls

Medium saucepan

Wooden spoon

Medium skillet

Tongs

Paper towels

Baking sheet

1-quart baking dish

Small skillet

Plates

DIRECTIONS

1. Make the sauce: To a heavy-bottomed small saucepan set over low heat, add the:

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 15 whole garlic cloves

Cook gently until the garlic is golden and tender (a paring knife will easily slip into the center of the biggest clove), stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

While the garlic poaches in the oil, in a small skillet set over medium heat, add the:

  • 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds

Toast the fennel seeds until fragrant and golden, 1½ to 2 minutes. Cool, then pulverize until powder-fine in a spice grinder.

In a medium bowl, add the:

  • Whole canned tomatoes

Use your fingers to roughly shred the tomatoes, placing the shredded tomatoes in a separate medium bowl and discarding the seeds. Once the garlic is golden and tender, transfer the garlic and half of the oil (save the remaining infused garlic oil for another use) to a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the shredded tomatoes to the pan along with the:

  • Reserved tomato juice (from the can of whole tomatoes)
  • Ground fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Simmer the sauce for 1 hour, then add the:

  • Basil sprig

Turn off the heat and cool slightly before removing the basil sprig and passing the sauce through a food mill (if using a food processor, remove the basil sprig and garlic cloves and pulse until the sauce is semi-smooth).

2. Make the eggplant Parm: Preheat the oven to 350°. To a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, add:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Half of the eggplant slices

Make sure the eggplant is in an even layer without overlapping. Cook until the eggplant is browned, 2 to 3 minutes, and then use the tongs to turn the eggplant over. Around the edges of the pan, drizzle in:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Once the eggplant starts to sizzle, add:

  • Half of the sliced garlic

Cook the eggplant until the other side is browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the eggplant and garlic to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining olive oil, eggplant and garlic until all of it is browned.

3. To the 1-quart baking dish, add 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce and cover with one-third of the cooked eggplant. Top with one-third of the:

  • Sliced mozzarella
  • Finely grated Pecorino cheese

Repeat twice, creating 3 layers and ending with the last one-third of the Pecorino.

4. Bake the eggplant Parmesan until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the uppermost position and heat the broiler to high. Move the baking dish to the top rack and broil the eggplant Parmesan until the cheese is browned and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes (watch the cheese closely, as broiler intensities vary). Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.

5. While the eggplant Parmesan cools, make the breadcrumbs. In a small skillet set over medium heat, add the:

  • 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter

Swirl the pan often until the butter is melted, then add the:

  • ½ cup breadcrumbs

Cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the toasted breadcrumbs out onto a plate.

Sprinkle the cooled eggplant Parmesan with the toasted breadcrumbs and the:

  • Marjoram leaves

Slice into pieces and serve.

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