Top | The Produce Diaries

Excellent eggplants

(article, Caroline Cummins)

The pickup: Way, way too many eggplants, dangling in the garden. Who knew four leafy plants grown from seed mere months ago could produce so much in one season?

The results: A whole lotta eggplant slung on the barbecue. (Helen Rennie has a nice recipe for grilled eggplant on her blog, Beyond Salmon.) Mountains of baba ganoush, that eggplanty twist on hummus. Chunks stirred into countless Indian and Thai curries. 

[%image feed-image float=left credit="Photo © Culinate" caption="Eggplants everywhere."]

Carrie Floyd, Culinate's food editor, makes a satisfying version of ratatouille, the classic southern French dish of simmered eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes; for extra oomph, she serves it over polenta. (It's also tasty served over baked potatoes.)

In a similar vein is the Sicilian favorite known as caponata, in which the eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes are joined by a wide range of extras, including anchovies, capers, olives, pine nuts, celery, raisins, and even chocolate. The current issue of Saveur magazine has a detailed recipe for caponata, which is delicious served warm or cold with crusty bread or over roasted chicken or fish.

Since eggplant absorbs so much oil when cooking and takes quite a while to soften into tender chewiness, most eggplant dishes (with the exception of roasted eggplant) are time hogs. A batch of caponata, for example, demands at least two hours of work — but the results will feed you for several days. 

[%image ratatouille float=right width=350 credit="Photo © Culinate" caption="Put eggplants to classic use in ratatouille."]

The ultimate labor-intensive recipe for eggplant might be Nigella Lawson's version of the Italian dish involtini, featured in her book Nigella Bites. Essentially little bundles of eggplant strips wrapped around fillings and baked with sauce, Lawson's take is more Greek than Italian, incorporating feta, pistachios, and plenty of oregano. It makes a nice vegetarian casserole dish for a party. But be warned: even Lawson, who calls the dish "fiddly," spends two days putting it together. This is strictly a weekend or two-nights-running endeavor only.

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