India is the birthplace of eggplant. But seldom do we see Indian varieties. In fact, many people assume that eggplant, which is actually a fruit not a vegetable, comes from the English who originally thought of eggplant as having an ornamental virtue rather than a culinary one. Its beauty is not to be under estimated but the numbers of ways eggplant can be prepared to eat are virtually endless especially during the summer months. And the more I explore this lovely fruit the more I appreciate the multicultural possibilities.
However, the discovery that the fruit contained an alkaloid was thought to aggravate gout and arthritis. People with these conditions were even told not to eat eggplants.
Perhaps the bitterness of eggplant may have compounded these biases further which is why cookbooks will tell you to use salt to draw the bitter acid out of the eggplant which can be washed away after an hour of salting. But by the eighteenth century eggplants had been developed that was less bitter. Today chefs and farmers will tell you that homegrown, farmer’s markets provide non-acidic eggplants.
Today our gardens are bursting with non-acidic eggplants that most of us enjoy eating in a multitude of ways. For example, I like grilling on a BBQ, or griddling on a stove top with a heavy cast iron black skillet that marks the vegetable or protein. I like broiling eggplants in an oven or baking in gratin pans or terrines, or just plain enjoying them right out of the frying pan which too often burns my lips due to my impatience. Eggplants give us a plethora of choices and tastes to experience.
For example, recently I rediscovered the menagerie of unique spices from the Middle East that are used with eggplant. For example, have you tried preserved lemon, cardamom, garlic and pomegranate or date syrup? One dish in particular that i have grown fond of is called Chermoula. It is a North African paste that is brushed over fish and vegetables, and especially eggplant, that is roasted and topped with cold yogurt, lemon, cilantro, cardamom, and garlic with a salty bulgur wheat salad. I have converted the dish into an appetizer by serving the roasted eggplant with it’s spicy roasted paste on pita triangles. This delicacy has become one of my favorites and that of many diners as well at fancy or modest parties I have catered.
Here are a few other favorite eggplant recipes in Italian cuisine while others are more ethnically diverse. All of these delectibles are easy to make and too delicioius not to try yourself. Your neighbors may be soon knocking on your door for several of these old standards.
Eggplant Napolean Serves 6-8
2 medium size zucchini
3 large home grown tomatoes
1/2 pound buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 freshly grated parmesan reggiana
1 large can of best quality plum tomatoes, like the Italian Marzanos
2 garlic cloves. diced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup julienne sliced basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 F
1. Pour half the olive oil in a large skillet at medium high heat and brown the eggplant, zucchini, and tomato slices on both sides.
2. Do one batch at a time- leaving room between each slice so that you are not steaming the vegetables. This should take about 20 - 30 minutes. After each batch place the vegetables on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Test the eggplant and zucchini to make sure they are soft when a pointed knife is easily inserted.
3. In another medium size pot begin to fry the onion until soft and carmalized. Add the can of tomatoes to a dry bowl and with your hands break them up. Then add them to the pot at medium high heat with the sauteed onions, diced garlic and the julienne sliced basil leaves. Mix everything together and bring the pot to a nice bubble. Add a little water if it becomes too dry— about 1/2 cup. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside and cover.
4. Form your Napoleans by alternating eggplant, mozzarella, tomato slices, mozzarella, then zucchini. There should be enough slices to make 8-10 Napoleans in 1-2 medium size hotel pans with 3 inch sides. Ladle the sauce on top of each Napolean. Be generous and ladle the remainder of the sauce up and down the rows.
5. Sprinkle all of the grated parmesan reggiano on top of each Napolean and place the pan(s) in the oven for 15-20 minutes. This should fill you up and treat you to one of the delicacies of the harvest season.
Recipe #2 Eggplant Terrine Serves 6-8
( Adapted from The 50 year old Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling and brushing
2 yellow bell peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 large poblano pepper or 2 small ones
3 eggplants cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
5 ounces Emmenthal cheese
1 fresh basil sprig, chop the leaves
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 large ripe home grown tomatoes or a 15 oz container of Marzano plum tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the broiler and the oven to 425 F. Lightly brush oil an oven- proof terrine dish. Place the bell peppers and poblanos on a sheet tray for 20 minutes; turn over for another 10-15 minutes. When blackened, place the peppers in a plastic bag and close for 10 minutes. The skin will be released so that you can peel the peppers more easily. It’s also even more convenient if you remove the skin under lukewarm water from the faucet.
2. Brush the eggplant with olive oil and broil until golden brown on both sides. Chop the eggplant flesh into thin slices and place them in the terrine. Use a second terrine if needed to include all the eggplant slices.
3. Grate 1/2 cup of the Emmenthal cheese and slice the remainder. Stir the grated cheese, with chopped peppers, a little basil, the eggs, a little salt and pepper.
4. Arrange a layer of the cheese on top of the eggplant and spoon in some of the egg mixture.
5. Continue to make alternate layers until all the ingredients are used, ending with the egg mixture.
6. Place the dish in a roasting pan, add boiling water to come half way up the sides and bake for one hour at 350 F. (Conceptually, this is like a custard preparation)
7. Meanwhile, put your homegrown, fresh or Marzano tomatoes, oil and garlic in a small pan, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 20 minutes.
8. Remove and discard the garlic and pass the mixture through a strainer into a bowl. Remove the terrine from the oven, turn out onto a warm serving dish and serve the tomato sauce on the side.
Recipe #3 Eggplant Caviar Serves 6-8
juice of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, diced
2 mint leaves, diced
10 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Here’s a dip that is delicious, good for you, and low in calories. You can use pita cut into eights instead of toast if you prefer,
Remove the ends of the eggplants then boil in salted water until very tender- testing by inserting a small, sharp knife tip into the eggplant.
Remove the eggplants from the water and drain in a collander.
When cool to handle, peel the eggplants in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Stir in the lemon juice, garlic, mint leaves and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serve with buttered toast or pita.
Recipe #4 Eggplant Rollatini with Proscuitto or Spinach
Ingredients 4 Servings
1 eggplant, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
1 egg, beaten
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (Homemade or Progresso brand)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 of a lb prosciutto or spinach
3 cups spaghetti sauce (See recipe below)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pound Spaghetti
1. Dip the eggplant slices in egg, then coat with homemade Italian bread crumbs. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant on each side until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
3. Spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese onto each slice of eggplant with a slice of proscuitto ( or spinach) with mozzarella cheese. Roll each eggplant up as tight as possible, and place the roll in the baking pan, seam side down. Bake the dish for 15-20 minutes.
4. While the eggplant rolls are baking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti, and cook for 8-9 minutes, until tender. Drain. Serve eggplant rolls with pasta and sauce on the side. (See Tomato sauce recipe below)
Additional Recipe: Homemade Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, medium diced
1 carrot, medium dice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans of Marzano tomatoes
4 to 6 basil leaves
2-3 leaves of fresh oregano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook for about 2 minutes then add the fresh basil and oregano and 1 oz of butter to soften the acidity. Stir to blend and add the tomatoes. Cook for an additional few minutes over high heat, stirring from time to time. Allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan off the heat. Taste for easoning.
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Let’s try to eat well while often eating alone. We deserve eating well. Don’t you think?