The eggplant has been celebrated as an aphrodisiac and feared as the cause of insanity. Today it is appreciated for both its inspiring beauty and multiple uses. An essential ingredient in cuisines around the world, it is the basis of Greek moussaka, Middle Eastern baba ganoush, Italian eggplant parmigiana, and French ratatouille. In addition, the emergence of Asian cuisine has introduced a whole new range of eggplants used in stir-fries and curries. Gardens and markets are filled with eggplants in a variety of sizes from small and pea-like, to egg shaped, to long and slender. Their offerings are a vast color palette from the traditional royal purple to shades of rose, violet, green, yellow and white, that are often enhanced with stripes in a contrasting color.

Eggplant is known around the world by a variety of common names. In its native India eggplant is known as brinjal. In Britain, France and other parts of Europe, it is called aubergine. Italians call it melanzana, while the Greeks know it as melitzana. Australians refer to it as eggfruit and in Africa the eggplant is called a garden egg. These many names reflect the rich diversity and uses of eggplant around the world.

Eggplants are generally classified by the shape of their fruit. There are five basic groups—globe, elongated or cylindrical, egg-shaped, specialty and pea eggplants. Each category offers a choice of eggplants in varying colors, sizes and days to harvest. The most common type in North America is the Western or oval eggplant that has large, deep purple, pear-shaped fruits. These types are most commonly used for stuffing, baking, sautéing and grilling. Japanese varieties are typically small fruited with a variety of shapes, and thin skinned in deep purple or light violet colors, sometimes blended with white or green. The skin is tender so fruits don’t need to be peeled. These varieties are ideal for stir-frying, grilling, sautéing and pickling. Round, egg-shaped eggplants come in a variety of colors. Easter Egg is a fast maturing variety with highly ornamental, egg-shaped white fruits. While it is commonly sold as a novelty plant, the fruits are edible. Casper is an elongated white eggplant with 6-inch fruits on compact plants. Rosa Bianca is the classic Italian heirloom variety prized for the extremely creamy interior flesh and beautiful skin in shades of rose, lavender and white.

Eggplant is a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It is excellent grilled, stuffed, roasted, sautéed, puréed or served in soups or stews. It can also be used to make curries, stir-fries and kabobs. Eggplant is not usually eaten raw as it contains chemicals that can cause digestive upset.

Naturally low in calories, fat and sodium, eggplant is also high in fiber and an excellent source of potassium, as well as folic acid, copper, vitamin B6, vitamin A, and magnesium. If you want to keep calories and fat low, avoid cooking eggplant in oil. Instead use a broth, wine, or vegetable juice for flavoring.

The flesh discolors quickly after being cut, so it should be used right away. If needed, cut slices can be lightly sprinkled with lemon juice to help prevent browning. Also, slice eggplant with a stainless steel knife to avoid blackening. Carbon steel knives will cause discoloration, as does cooking eggplant in an aluminum pan.

Orzo-stuffed eggplant

Ingredients:                                                                                                               

  • 4 small eggplants (approximately 7 ounces each)
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup orzo pasta, uncooked
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-28 container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, diced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tablespoons bread crumbs

Directions:

Heat oven to 400°F. Wash and pat dry the eggplants, cut off their stems, and cut them in half vertically. Place them with the cut side down on a baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove eggplants from the pan and let cool. Using a spoon, carve out and chop the pulp, leaving just a thin shell (about 1/4 inch). Place pulp in a bowl and set aside.

Cook the orzo according to package instructions, but keep it slightly undercooked (1–2 minutes less than directed). While the orzo is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the chopped eggplant pulp and sauté for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, dried herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

When the orzo is ready, drain and add to the eggplant mixture. Toss in both cheeses and mix well. Divide eggplant–cheese mixture into 8 equal portions and fill the eggplant shells. Sprinkle the top of each eggplant with a half tablespoon of the breadcrumbs. Spray the top of each with cooking spray. Place stuffed eggplant halves on a baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings  Serving size: 2 halves

Pasta with Eggplant Sauce                                                                                                                                                      

Because the small Italian eggplants generally used in this dish can be hard to find in this country, use Asian eggplants as a substitute.

Serves 6 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 pound small eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Two 28 oz. containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pound ridged ziti or rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces freshly grated ricotta salata cheese (about 3/4 cup)
  • Garnish: fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Peel garlic. Trim stem ends of eggplants. Halve eggplants lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

In a 12-inch heavy skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Saute half the eggplant turning until golden brown on both sides. Transfer eggplant with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, arranging it in one layer. Season eggplant with salt and pepper. Add remaining oil to the skillet and cook eggplant as above. Remove to a paper towel.

In the same skillet cook garlic over low heat, stirring, until golden. Stir in tomatoes stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

In a 6-quart kettle bring 5 quarts water to a boil for pasta. Add salt and  cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta in a colander.

Transfer half the tomato sauce with half  the ricotta salata cheese to a large bowl and toss with pasta and half the eggplant, adding some reserved pasta cooking water if sauce becomes too thick. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and top with remaining sauce and eggplant and some of the remaining cheese. Garnish pasta with basil and serve remaining cheese on the side.

Ricotta Salata is one of Italy’s most unusual sheep’s milk cheeses. The milk curds and whey, used to make this cheese, are pressed and dried even before the cheese is aged, giving this pure white cheese a dense but slightly spongy texture and a salty, milky flavor — like a dry feta. Despite its name, this is not ricotta as Americans have come to know ricotta. In Italian, ricotta simply means recooked.  It is a cheese-making process rather than a specific cheese. This ricotta is also a salata, or salted, cheese.

Make this entree for a special occasion or for special vegetarian friends. There is a bit of work involved in preparing this dish that can be made in stages or prepared ahead, but it makes for a spectacular presentation.

Terrine of Roasted Eggplant      

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggplants,about 1 1/2 pounds each
  • 3/4 tablespoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian Bread Crumbs
  • 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Tomato Sauce, see below
  • Roasted Eggplant Sauce, see below

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Cut the stem ends off all the eggplants. Cut 3 eggplants in half lengthwise and score the flesh with a sharp knife, making sure you don’t cut through the skin. Rub the cut surface of the eggplants well with 1/2 tablespoon of the salt. Set the eggplant halves aside on paper towels, cut-side-down, and let them drain for 20 minutes.

2. Cut the fourth eggplant (peel or don’t peel according to taste) in half lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices, also lengthwise. Sprinkle with the remaining salt. Lay the slices on top of one another in a colander. Place a dish on top and weigh it down with about 1 1/2 pounds (a can of tomatoes will do). Drain for 20 minutes.

3. Line the bottoms of two (18 x 13-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Dry the cut surfaces of the eggplant halves and brush the parchment and eggplant with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Place them on the baking sheets, cut-side-down and bake in the preheated oven 45-55 minutes. The eggplants are completely cooked when they dent easily as you poke the skin. Do not cook them more than 1 hour as they burn easily, once they are tender. Remove them from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

4. Dry the eggplant slices with a paper towel. Line another sheet pan with parchment paper. Brush the paper and the eggplant with the remaining olive oil and cook for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside.

5. Using a large spoon, scoop the cooked flesh out of the roasted eggplant halves. Discard the skin and place the flesh in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the juices. Drain for 40 minutes, stirring once. Save 1 cup of the juices that have drained from the eggplant to use in the sauce. Discard the rest or save it for other uses.

Assemble the Terrine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

1. Separate the 4 eggs. Mix the yolks, Pecorino Romano cheese and 1 cup of the bread crumbs with the roasted eggplant flesh. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold them gently into the eggplant mixture.

2. Spray a loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inches) with olive oil cooking spray and coat with the remaining bread crumbs.

3. Line the bottom of the loaf pan with the largest slices of eggplant; place the remaining slices around the edges, standing up and overlapping slightly. They should extend above the rim by about 1/3 of their length so that you can fold them over the roasted filling.

4. Put half the eggplant mixture into the pan as the first layer and top it with the mozzarella cheese as the middle layer. Cover with the remaining eggplant mixture and fold over the overlapping eggplant slices. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

This dish can be served right away by inverting it on a serving tray and cutting it at the table, but I strongly recommend that you let it rest at least overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, invert into onto a cutting board, cut into serving slices and reheat in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven on a parchment lined sheet pan for 25 minutes. It can be prepared up to 4 days in advance.

Tomato Sauce

Yields 7 ½ cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onion
  • 3 (28 ounce) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  • 8 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry oregano

Directions:

Pour the olive oil in a stock pot ( at least 3 quart) , add the olive oil garlic, onion, red pepper flakes,and garlic, cook over medium heat for 15 minutes stirring often until the onions are starting to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar ,salt, pepper, basil, and oregano cook stirring well for 5 more minutes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30- 35 minutes stirring occasionally. Use the sauce right away or store in the refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Before you refrigerate or freeze it, let the sauce come to room temperature.

Roasted Eggplant Sauce    

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe above
  • 1 cup reserved roasted eggplant juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons finely diced celery

 Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick saucepan set on over high heat until sizzling. Add the celery and saute until brown. Add the tomato sauce, the reserved eggplant juices, the sugar and basil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring twice.

Liquefy the sauce in a food processor. Strain through a wire mesh strainer and return to the saucepan. Heat through before serving. Pour a pool of the hot sauce on each dinner plate and place a slice of the eggplant terrine on top.

The sauce can be made up to 4 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

 

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