|From A Small Boston Kitchen|
|Right Food for the Season - Late Summer|
|Written by Katie Barszcz|
Let me just put it out there, I did not grow up in an eggplant-lovin' family. In so far as fresh vegetables were concerned, as a family of four, we were more of a cucumber, corn on the cob, and mushroom type veggie lovers. To be honest, eggplants didn't even really enter my thoughts or graze any plate of mine until (and I'm rather embarrassed to admit this) this year. I can only assume that as this is being read, there is a choir of gasps harmonizing and faces being wrinkled up in confusion. There might even be a "What the...?" or two tumbling from some readers's lips and frankly, I can't say I blame them. It seems so ridiculous that one could exist for almost 30 years on this planet and not cross paths with something as simple as an eggplant, but that is the truth of the matter. I will say, however, that since I tasted my first bite of eggplant, I have been hooked and have been very busy making up for lost time.
When you think about it, eggplants are absolutely beautiful. In its most popular form, they are such an intensely deep purple shade that it almost walks a fine line of being black in color. With a grassy-green colored stem that covers the top like a hat, the eggplant is stunning to look at. The base is traditionally wide and bulbous and then it gradually narrows as it nears the top. The skin is flawlessly smooth with a glossy sheen to it, and when you hold the eggplant, it feels heavier in the hands than one might suspect. When you cut into an eggplant, it gives way to a world of tiny seeds settled into a porous and bright cream colored flesh, which provides quite the contrast to the eggplant's exterior. When it gets given a good, solid sniff (you know, the type of sniff that forces you to close your eyes and inhale so deeply you almost get a little lightheaded) it has a delightfully fresh, sweet and slightly floral scent, not so unlike that of fresh-cut flowers.
In a zealous fit of food geekery, I did some internet research on my new friend the eggplant and found out some interesting facts:
1. Eggplants originally hail from India and were once thought to be poisonous.
2. Eggplants are botanically classified as a berry.
3. Eggplants got their name due to the fact that early eggplants were white and resembled a giant goose egg.
4. An eggplant is about 95% water.
5. The Italian word for eggplant is "melanzane" which means "crazy apple" in English.
6. China is currently the top eggplant producer in the world.
7. In the US, Georgia ranks at the top for producer of eggplants.
8. The peak season for eggplants in the US is from July - October.
9. There are coutless varieties of eggplants and they vastly range in color, size and weight.
10. When used in cooking, eggplants are one of the most absorbent "vegetable."
When it comes to the kitchen, the eggplant is an incredibly versatile ingredient. Commonly found in various dips and sauces, the eggplant can be baked, roasted, fried, or simmered until it become sweet and mellow and almost takes on an applesauce-like quality. While it might be fantastic as an accompaniment, as in Ratatouille, I like it best as the star of the meal and with that, I share my favorite recipe for Eggplant Parmesan. I created this recipe one day solely using what I hand on hand in my pantry. It starts with thickly sliced eggplants that are dredged through breadcrumbs and then baked (or fried) until they are soft in the center and crispy on the outside. I then coated the eggplants in a simple homemade tomato sauce and encouraged (by way of broiler) melted mozzarella cheese to coat the top and ooze down the sides. For a great presentation, stack the eggplants on top of each other and serve with a fresh sprig of basil and a nice light glass of red wine. For best results, eat while it's still hot, enjoying the cheese as it forms connective stretchy strings as you break a bite away with your fork. As you chew, savor the way the hot and crunchy breadcrumbs contrast the soft sweet eggplant center.
Lastly, close your eyes, take a deep breath and appreciate the eggplant.
1 medium sized eggplant, cut thickly into about 1/2 inch slices
2 cups breadcrumbs (you can make your own or buy store-bought)
2 cups flour
Splash of water
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (I like to use Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Sauce)
1 generous splash of beef, chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of fresh garlic, whole
1 tsp fresh or dried herbs of your choosing (I used fresh basil and fennel seeds)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
A couple of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced, plus a sprig for the top of each dish
Enough fresh mozzarella cheese for every piece of eggplant, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In three separate shallow bowls, lay out the breadcrumbs, flour and eggs. With a fork, stir the eggs until they are well combined. Add a splash of water to make an egg wash. Taking an eggplant slice, soak it in the egg wash and dredge it through the flour. Soak the eggplant once again in the egg wash, making sure it is coated well. Dredge the eggplant slice through the breadcrumbs, making sure the slice is entirely covered with breadcrumbs. Lay it in a large baking pan. Repeat the process for each eggplant slice. Bake the eggplants for about 10-15 minutes, or until they start to brown. Using a spatula, flip them over so that the other side had a chance to brown. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until they are browned and crispy and when touched, soft in the center.
While the eggplants are baking, in a small pot, heat the garlic in the extra virgin olive oil, keeping an eye on it so it doesn't burn. Once the garlic starts to brown and soften, remove the garlic from the pot and discard. Add tomato sauce and a splash of stock, salt and pepper. At this point, you can add fresh or dried herbs of your choosing. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer. After the sauce simmers for a little bit, take another taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.
Once the eggplants are done, remove from the oven and pour a thin layer of sauce over the eggplants. Top each piece off with a slice of cheese and stick them back in the oven. Using the broil setting, broil the eggplants until the cheese bubbles and starts to brown in some areas. Keep a close eye on this because it will broil quickly. Once the cheese has melted, pour a little puddle of sauce onto a plate and stack three eggplant slices on top. Add a sprig of fresh basil and serve immediately.
Katie Barszcz comes to LIS from her own wonderful blog Once Upon A Small Boston Kitchen. As Katie describes it, her site "is meant to not only share my culinary endeavors, but also to encourage you to put on some good music, pour yourself a beverage and just get creating." LIS is excited to have this terrific guest post!