If the family that cooks together stays together, then no family may be closer than the Smolletts. Piggy-backing on the success of their Food Network Show, Smollett Eats, the family of entertainment-industry over-achievers (siblings Jurnee and Jussie have starred in Empire, Friday Nights Lights, and Underground, while Jazz is a writer-producer, and Jake is a chef and host) have just released their first cookbook: The Family Table.
The title is a nod to the butcher-block table that their mother would recreate in each new home they lived in—the Smolletts moved 13 times growing up—and the central role that mealtime had in their family. “Food was our culture, it was the way we celebrated, the way that we gathered,” says Jazz Smollett-Warwell, a mom and entertaining expert. “We didn’t have a lot materially. At our birthday parties, there wasn’t a jump house, it was all about the food,” she says.
The Smollett’s multi-cultural background—their mom is African-American and their dad is Jewish from Eastern European decent—and childhood nomadic lifestyle is totally apparent in the super-eclectic collection of recipes. There’s everything from New Orleans-style oyster po’ boys and North African chicken and spinach stew to linguine Vongole and Cuban Picadillo. Plus, the meals are meant to serve a crowd. “We grew up with a family of eight. These are easy, hearty recipes, the recipes we grew up eating,” says Jake Smollett.
As kids, staying healthy was all about balance: There was always a fresh veggie on the table and no food was considered bad as long as it was made from scratch. “You can have anything you want as long as you cook it at home, ” says Jazz. It’s the effort that you put into making the food that makes it more of a mindful process and ensures that what you end up with—even if its peach cobbler or coconut cream-chocolate mousse—is wholesome.
But the biggest benefit of cooking as a family might just be what it teaches you about working together and supporting one another. And who couldn’t use a little more support from their siblings? “We grew up like a farm family. We are used to collaborating,” says Jake.
Keep reading to get the recipe for eggplant parm pizza rounds, one of the stand-outs from the talented fam’s new cookbook.
- 1 eggplant
- vegetable oil
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 1 roma tomato cut into 16 thin slices
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
For the dry batter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp basil
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
For the egg batter
For the tomato sauce
With a sharp serrated knife, trim the eggplant and cut it into one-fourth-inch rounds. You’ll get about 16 slices out of a large eggplant.
Combine all the dry batter ingredients in a large bowl. Lightly whisk together the egg batter ingredients in a medium bowl. One at a time, dip the eggplant rounds into the egg batter, then the dry batter. Make sure the eggplant is completely coated in the dry batter, pressing it into the eggplant to ensure a nice coating for frying. (This step could be done the day before if needed. After dredging your eggplant, place it on a baking sheet and wrap in plastic. Store in the fridge until ready to fry. This may increase the frying time slightly.)
Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. Heat one-eighth-inch vegetable oil in a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat until very hot. (Dip the edge of an eggplant round in the oil and if it sizzles, the oil is ready.) Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the skillet, fry the eggplant rounds for three minutes per side, or until crispy and golden brown. Remove the rounds to the lined plate to absorb the excess oil.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
To make the tomato sauce, sauté the garlic in the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until softened, about one minute. Add the tomato paste, salt, crushed red pepper, and one-third cup water, stir, and cook for about five minutes. Remove from the heat.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and divide the rounds between them. Top the rounds with sauce, Parmesan, a thin slice of fresh tomato, and basil. Bake for about five minutes, until the cheese is melted.
From The Family Table by Jazz Smollett-Warwell, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jake Smollett, Jussie Smollett. Copyright © 2018 by Smollett Collective. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. For more healthy dishes that feed the whole family, check out this vegan one-pot meal and this creamy, coconut corn dish.
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