Friday, September 25, 2009

Seafood and Eggplant Dressing

Seafood and Eggplant Dressing, a breaded seafood dressing, sometimes referred to as a casserole, made with fresh shrimp, crabmeat and eggplant.
Seafood and Eggplant Dressing, a breaded seafood dressing, sometimes referred to as a casserole, made with fresh shrimp, crabmeat and eggplant.

Seafood and Eggplant Dressing

I was introduced to eggplant by my first mother-in-law. Eggplant was something that I do not ever recall my mother preparing, in any form, not one single time ... but my mother-in-law did cook it, and often. One of the ways she often made it, was in a wonderful seafood dressing.

Miss Ursula, that's what everybody called her, has passed on now, but she was a sweetheart. Actually my father in law was too - even after The Divorce, despite the fact that they were a staunch Catholic family, they never treated me any different and to the day they both passed away, they were always kind and welcoming to me anytime they saw me.

I used to love to sit and drink coffee with my father-in-law and listen to his war stories. And let me tell you, he liked his coffee. With chicory and super strong. My mother-in-law used to say you could stand a spoon in it! Didn't bother me - I just poured lots of cream in there and listened intently to his tales, of which he had many. A machine gunner in the Marines during World War II, he was one of thousands of young sailors who saw the American flag raised over Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.  He had fought in many battles though - Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa - and was even recalled to active duty during the Korean War. You would never know that his eyes had ever seen a single war though. He was the kindest southern gentleman you could ever possibly meet, and full of obvious love for his wife. 

I will never forget my first experience having dinner at their house when I was dating my ex-husband, because you see, Miss Ursula had a slew of sons and not a single daughter. My ex-husband was 1 of 7 boys. Can you imagine? How they managed to do that between all of his tours of duty is beyond me.

I gotta say, the first time I had dinner at their house, goodness was it crazy! All the way up to Grace, things were calm and the boys were all very well mannered and polite, which I am sure they were warned to be, but at Amen all bets were off! There were arms slinging, and dishes passing, and hands flying and, little ole me, coming from a small family of 3 very quiet children - 2 girls and only 1 boy who was 7 years younger than me - well, I had just never experienced such a thing! I got used to it very quick though, which led to many such meals around that very large table.

I remember the first time that I tasted Miss Ursula's eggplant dressing. I had no idea actually what it even was that I was eating, but it was different and delicious and when I later asked and discovered it was eggplant I was stunned. Having never consumed it before, I guess I really didn't know what to expect from an eggplant, but after experiencing it in a few other ways, that eggplant immediately grew on me.

This is often referred to as a casserole because it regularly shows up as a side dish, usually on Sunday, and likely along with a nice roast. Seems pretty fitting as a casserole to me too ... I mean it's got shrimp, crab and eggplant in it - sounds like a casserole to me! You can also make this with just shrimp, though I love the combination of the two personally. Round this out with a green veggie and a mixed salad and you're in business with a mighty fine meal.

Salting is not always necessary with eggplant, especially if you have an eggplant freshly picked from your own garden, but, sometimes the seeds of an eggplant tend toward the bitter side, and salting helps to draw out those bitter juices. Plus the salting, in this manner, provides a little seasoning as well.

The Cajun, who has an open aversion to nearly anything closely vegetable related, and who would never knowingly touch an eggplant, gobbles this up. "That was delicious," he proclaims. I just tell him its a seafood casserole, and he thinks it tastes like stuffed crab. I tell him no different.

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Recipe: Seafood and Eggplant Dressing

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 30 min |Cook time: 1 hour | Yield: About 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled & chopped (about 5 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked crisp
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1/2 pound medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning (like Slap Ya Mama) or to taste, optional
  • 5 slices of white or wheat bread
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 pound of crabmeat
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, divided
For the Topping:
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley

Peel the eggplant and cut into chunks. Add kosher salt to a large pot halfway filled with water, stir, add eggplant and let soak in the water for 30 minutes, drain and set aside. Butter or spray a 9 x 9 inch (1-1/2 quart) baking dish; set aside. Cook bacon until crisp, reserving the bacon drippings. Drain bacon on paper towel and set aside to use as garnish, or reserve for another use.

Place eggplant back into the pot, and add enough fresh water only to cover the eggplant; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and low simmer for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove eggplant to a colander to drain, but reserve the water, setting it aside to cool. To the bacon drippings, add 1 tablespoon of butter and saute the celery, onion, and bell pepper until softened. Add the garlic and green onion and cook another minute.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, dip the bread into the cooled eggplant water, so that it soaks in some of the water; place it into a colander to drain. Chop the shrimp; add to the vegetables and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, basil, sage, rosemary and Cajun seasoning. Stir together, remove from the heat.

Use a paper towel to press down on the bread and squeeze out most of the excess water, add to the skillet, along with the eggplant, stirring it in well. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Add the beaten egg and half of the Parmesan cheese. Stir well. Add the crabmeat and gently toss. Mix topping ingredients with remaining Parmesan cheese and sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until heated through. Remove and garnish with bacon, if desired.

Cook's Notes: Double for the holidays. Scoop pulp out of eggplant halves, leaving peeling intact, if using this as a stuffing for the eggplant shells.

Tip: To easily pick out any shell, use a handheld blacklight device, or spread crab on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in a 200 degree oven for 3 minutes. The shell will become visible and easier to pick out.


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Posted by on September 25, 2009

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