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In the Kitchen: Cooking with eggplant
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 I did not grow up eating eggplant. My father didn’t like it, so my mother didn’t cook the purple plant.

As a young adult I tried eggplant parmesan and was an immediate fan. In fact, I became a leading eggplant advocate if there ever was one.

 Paul is not a picky eater, so I was surprised when we met and were getting to know each other and he professed he didn’t like eggplant. Of course, I reasoned he had just never had it cooked the right way.

 When we married, one of my first goals was to convince him how delicious eggplant was. I tried everything —baked, fried, broiled and grilled. I stuffed it, charred it, made dips, casseroles — you name it, I tried it. The verdict was always the same. He would eat it — he’s no fool. But after the meal, I would ask if he was a convert, and he would sadly shake his head, no. It was something about the texture. Eventually, I stopped torturing him with eggplant dinners and moved on.

I still love eggplant and often cook it when Paul is traveling or when he won’t be home for dinner. If you garden, you probably have plenty of eggplant right now and perhaps need some new recipes to help you with your bounty. Here you go.

 

Roasted eggplant caviar

 1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium-large eggplant, halved lengthwise

2 tomatoes, cut in half, squeezed to remove some of the seeds

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and halved lengthwise

1 onion, quartered

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use about half of the oil to oil a rimmed baking sheet. Place the eggplant, tomatoes, bell pepper and onions, cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes.

Peel the skin off of the bell pepper and tomatoes and place in a bowl. It’s fine if you can’t get all of the skin off. Scrape the eggplant out of its skin and discard the peel. Place eggplant in the bowl with the pepper and tomato and add the onion. Use two knives to “chop” the vegetables together.

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, cooking a minute or so. Add the chopped vegetables to the skillet and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Cook until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Puree half of the vegetable mixture and stir in the remaining vegetables. Chill until quite cold, several hours. Taste for seasoning. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

 

Spaghettini with crispy broiled eggplant

 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-large eggplant, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh, minced)

1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound spaghettini or spaghetti

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, minced or torn

 

Preheat broiler. Lightly brush the eggplant slices on both sides with the ¼-cup olive oil. Lay them on a baking sheet and broil until deep golden brown. Flip over and broil again until golden brown. Let cool and then cut slices into 1-inch wide strips.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for a minute. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, parsley and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to package directions in lots of salty water until cooked al dente. Drain the sauce, reserving a little bit of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the tomato sauce and toss well. Stir in the reserved pasta water if sauce is too thick. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and basil.

 

Baked ratatouille

 1 large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise

Salt

Olive oil

2 onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

One sprig fresh rosemary

One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

 

Bread Crumb Topping

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with some of the olive oil. Slice the eggplant into very thin slices — if you have a mandolin, it is perfect for this job. Line a baking sheet or platter with paper towels and place the eggplant slices on the paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

In a large skillet, add some of the olive oil and onions and cook over medium heat until onions are golden. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook another minute. Add rosemary sprig and cook another minute. Add tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add wine and simmer another 15 minutes.

Core and seed the bell peppers and cut into thin slices. Cut the zucchini and yellow squash into thin slices as well. Pat the eggplant slices dry. Remove sauce from burner and stir in salt, pepper, basil and parsley. Taste for seasoning.

To assemble, spread half of the sauce in a casserole dish and then layer half the vegetables over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Pour the rest of the sauce on top and then layer the remaining vegetables in an attractive pattern on top.

 For bread crumb topping, combine in a food processor, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt and olive oil. Pulse until well combined. Sprinkle topping over ratatouille and bake 40 minutes.