By Request: Eggplant Recipes UPDATED

This is the most wonderful time of the year for CSA participants: high summer.

That means eggplant, peppers, and the queen of summer produce, field-grown tomatoes. Our box this week from Sol Flower Farm contained all those, plus beautiful small squash, more lovely lettuce, and a pint of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I think I’ve ever eaten.

Heaven!

I had a few requests for eggplant recipes in particular, so I wanted to share my tips and suggestions with you.

italian_eggplant

First, a note: the lovely thin Italian-style eggplant we received does not need, in my opinion, to be salted and drained. It’s not that bitter, and frankly I have rarely found that step to be necessary in any eggplant dish. Personal preference, perhaps, but with eggplant this small and local I never waste time salting.

In terms of preparation, the ultimate way to prepare eggplant is to grill it. A sad truth for we urbanites bereft of grills, for sure, but if you have access to a grill of any kind, put your eggplant on it and prepare to be amazed.

Grilling transforms everything for the better, but the impact on eggplant is magical. It practically becomes something else both in terms of texture and flavor. Watch the video for more info, but it’s really quite painless: slice, dab with olive oil, grill til it’s soft. With some salt and perhaps a sprinkling of fresh chopped basil, you have an alluring side dish for any meal. I once spent a summer weekend in Vermont piling eggplant on a strange grill in the half-darkness, with no recipe and no clue what I was doing, and found that the “burnt” vegetable I thought I’d ruined was fantastic with no more embellishment than oil and salt.

The NYTimes just published a nice little round-up of grilled eggplant recipes; take a look and see if their baba ghanouj, Italian-style, or herbed options look good to you.

What to do if you don’t have a grill?

My answer is always to make ratatouille.

Ratatouille is easy and cheap to make, extremely forgiving, gets better in the fridge as you keep it, freezes like a dream, goes well with any meat, and does not require a bed of pasta or other starch to make you want to eat it. (No complaint from me if you want to put it on a bed of polenta, however.)

I always make a big batch and freeze at least half of it. Heating it up in mid-winter is a lovely way to be kind to yourself, trust me.

Ratatouille, from epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • a 3/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 small zucchini, scrubbed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into thin slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 pound small ripe tomatoes, chopped coarse (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

Method

In a large skillet cook the onion and the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and heat it over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until the eggplant is softened. Stir in the zucchini and the bell pepper and cook the mixture over the moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture, stirring occasionaly, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the oregano, the thyme, the coriander, the fennel seeds, the salt, and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the basil and combine the mixture well. The ratatouille may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated before serving.

Not to belabor the point, but if you have a grill, you ought to make grilled ratatouille, for the best of both worlds.

UPDATE 8.18: I made the feta cheese ratatouille recipe, above, adding a good pour of balsamic and a big hit of thinly-sliced fresh basil. I highly, highly recommend this - delicious!

Other Ideas

If you’ve read this far, you might have noticed that I don’t have any moussaka recipes to offer. Dirty secret:  I don’t much care for it. But fortunately there are many other wonderful eggplant options out there. If you have an eggplant preparation you particularly love, put it in the comments!

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