Cooks Exchange

Chef Bill Vrazel shares his famous Eggplant LaRosa recipe with Cooks Exchange readers

Bill Vrazel, owner of the former Vrazel’s restaurant in Gulfport.
Bill Vrazel, owner of the former Vrazel’s restaurant in Gulfport. Sun Herald File

Chef William J. (Bill) Vrazel’s recipes rate at the top of readers’ request lists.

For weeks, readers including Kathie Sicotte, Faith Koger and Ann Brown, have requested three of his signature dishes, Eggplant LaRosa, Shrimp and Artichoke Teresa and Spinach Touffle.

Vrazel was kind enough to share the shrimp and artichoke and spinach recipes.

Now, today (drum roll, please), he is sharing his famous eggplant dish.

When he first closed the restaurant, which was located on U.S. 90 in Gulfport where Beach Blvd., 3206 W Beach Blvd., is today, Vrazel was going to write a cookbook of these well-known Coast favorites.

That plan has moved to the back burner. Life has a way of changing the best-laid plans.

Cookbooks are time-consuming: Each recipe must be tested over and over.

“Sometimes you make a recipe and it doesn’t turn out like you want, so you must redo it,” Vrazel said. “It also is easier to test recipes in a restaurant kitchen where you have every ingredient that you need without having to stop and go to the store for the one ingredient you do not have.”

I confess, as another fan of his restaurant, the eggplant LaRosa and his buttery, garlicky escargot were my favorites. I was stuck on those two nearly every time we dined at the now-closed Vrazel’s.

To say Vrazel is a nice guy is an understatement.

When my daughter was 4, Allen and I took her to Vrazel’s for dinner. Yes, she was a picky eater, but she loved spaghetti, and Bill Vrazel made great spaghetti and meat sauce.

When the dish came out, parsley was sprinkled on top.

“Oooh, it has green stuff on it,” Elyssa said, at the top of her lungs where no diner missed it.

Quickly, the dish was whisked away and came back sans the parsley. She was a happy camper. I will always remember Vrazel and his staff for accommodating my 4-year-old. Of course, Allen and I wished the floor had swallowed us.

Readers also can thank him for being so forthcoming with his recipes. Some chefs never share their recipes.

Sicotte of Biloxi can once again enjoy Eggplant LaRosa.

Vrazel also shared a summer favorite, real-deal Caesar salad. Even anchovies are great in the dressing. If a raw egg in the dressing concerns you, use a pasteurized egg.

STILL LOOKING

Shirley Dedeaux wants the crabmeat au gratin recipe from the old Angelo’s, which was located where Vrazel’s was.

Angelo’s and Vrazel’s recipes are among the most requested. Perhaps family members have that au gratin recipe.

Vrazel and I laughed about that and agree maybe there was something about the location.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Do home chefs change their menus when school starts and the pace gets more intense? Share some quick-hit meals with your fellow readers. I know I make more use of the slow cooker and microwave. Mail, e-mail or hit me on Facebook with your recipes.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and Cooks Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

VRAZEL’S EGGPLANT LAROSA

Ingredients:

1 gallon fresh eggplant (3 large eggplants or 4 medium eggplants), peeled and diced to half-inch pieces

3/4 cup medium diced green pepper

3 cups medium diced onions

1 1/2 cups medium diced celery

1/3 cup medium chopped garlic

2 1/2 pints clam broth (can use clam base or seafood base such as Better than Bouillon, 4 ounces to 2 1/2 pints water) (See Note 2 at end of recipe)

6 large bay leaves

1/4 cup parsley flakes

1/8 cup thyme

1/4 cup basil

1/4 cup oregano

2 tablespoons Tabasco

10 ounces butter

2 pounds (60/70 count) peeled shrimp (or smaller)

1 pound lump blue crab (you can add more if you like but at least 1 pound)

1 pound sliced Swiss American cheese (See Note 1)

1 pound Parmesan cheese

4 1/2 pints fresh French bread crumbs (Make in food processer)

1/4 cup parsley flakes

Season to taste with salt if needed (may omit if using seafood or clam base). Do not over season.

Method: In a large pot, place peeled and diced eggplant, seafood or clam stock, all the spices including Tabasco. Bring to a boil, then turn to a slow simmer. It is important that the eggplant cooks slowly. When the eggplant is fully cooked and tender, add all the vegetable seasonings and cook until tender, vegetables should be soft. Add shrimp and cook until just done; do not overcook, then turn off heat.

Add butter; when butter has melted add crabmeat. Mix in well, but gently trying not to break up the crabmeat. Add fresh French bread crumbs. Add a little at a time, be careful not to put too much, the consistency should be soggy but not so that you see juice. Mix well but gently. Try not to break up the crabmeat.

Layer this into a 12 3/4-by-10 3/8-inch pan. First cover bottom of the pan with 1 to 1 1/2 inches eggplant. This is then covered with white American/Swiss sliced process cheese 2 slices thick. Then cover with the remainder of the eggplant. Top off with a generous covering of grated Parmesan cheese, and lightly sprinkle parsley flakes for color. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 55 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Remove the foil, and bake for another 20 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly. Do not overcook.

Let Eggplant LaRosa sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Note 1: Kraft or equivalent, all cheeses taste different. I find Kraft is best when available.

Note 2: Seafood or clam base will add salt to the dish and usually won’t need additional salt.

Eggplant LaRosa freezes well and keeps good up to a year frozen. This recipe can easily feed up to 12 people as an entrée. However, you can make up several smaller pans and freeze for later use.

Official home recipe of Chef William J. Vrazel

VRAZEL’S CLASSIC CAESAR SALAD

(Makes 2 Servings)

Ingredients:

3 or 4 large garlic cloves

3 tablespoons virgin olive oil

3 or 4 anchovies

1 fresh egg

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 head Romaine lettuce broken into 2-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon horseradish

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Lea and Perrins

1/2 cup croutons

3 or 4 drops Tabasco sauce

2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

2 chilled salad plates

Equipment:

Salad bowl (wooden if possible)

1 dinner fork

1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon

Crush up 2 or 3 large garlic cloves with fork. Crush 3 or 4 anchovies in with the garlic making a paste. Add dry mustard and horseradish. Mix all together with Lea & Perrins and Tabasco sauce. Now add one fresh raw egg to bowl and mix well. Place wine vinegar and virgin olive oil and mix well. Add Romaine and mix well until all Romaine is wet with dressing. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of croutons and toss gently. Place salad on chilled plate and top with shredded Parmesan cheese. If desired, add freshly ground pepper and serve.

Submitted by Chef William J. Vrazel

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