eggplant

Eggplant has been vastly under-used by the American public. Today, thanks to Asian and Southern European influences, it is finding its way into more and more dishes. It is a good meat substitute which also makes it attractive to vegetarians. Eggplant actually has a bland flavor, but it soaks up flavors of accompanying foods, herbs and spices like a sponge. The eggplant is considered a vegetable but is botanically a fruit. Early varieties of eggplant were smaller and white, resembling eggs, hence the name.

How to Buy Eggplant

Eggplants come in all shapes, from small, round fruits (about two inches in diameter) to the popular large oblong Black Beauty variety, which can range up to 12 inches long. Japanese eggplant is long and thin, resembling zucchini and has fewer seeds. The seeds are edible in all varieties. Eggplant colors range from white to lavender to dark purplish-black as well as pale green, yellow and reddish. There are even some striped varieties. Eggplant varieties may be used interchangeably in your recipes. When shopping, choose eggplants with smooth, shiny skin, heavy for their size and free of blemishes, tan patches or bruises. Wrinkled, loose skin is an indication of age and the fruit will be bitter. Smaller eggplants have fewer seeds, thinner skin and tend to be sweeter, more tender and less bitter. Press your finger lightly against the skin. If it leaves a light imprint, it is ripe. If it is soft, it is too old.

How to Store Eggplant

Eggplant is quite perishable and will not store long. Depending on the freshness factor of the eggplant at the time of purchase, it may be refrigerated for up to 4 days (up to 7 days if you pick right from the garden). However, it is best to use them as soon as possible, preferably within a day.

Handle eggplants carefully as they bruise easily. Wrap each in a paper towel and place in a perforated plastic bag before storing in the refrigerator vegetable bin. Do not store eggplant at temperatures less than 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).

Cooked eggplant may be refrigerated up to 3 days (it will get mushy when reheated) or frozen up to 6 months in a puree form. It holds up fairly well in chunks in soups and stews when thawed in the refrigerator, but not as chunks on its own. I have had great success in freezing breaded, oven baked eggplant slices to use in future eggplant parmesan recipes. I freeze them in single layer packages and pull out what I need for a casserole.

Cooking Tips

Eggplant skin is edible. However, some find it bitter.

The flesh is very sponge-like and will soak up juices and oils. Coat slices with flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs to avoid soaking up too much oil. Let breaded patties dry for half an hour in the refrigerator before cooking.

Parboiling slices for 1 to 2 minutes can also help reduce eggplant’s absorbancy, while ridding it of moisture. Be sure to thoroughly drain and pat dry with paper towels before further cooking.

Once cut, eggplant flesh will begin to darken with exposure to air. A brushing of lemon juice will help keep the flesh from darkening.

Do not use aluminum cookware with eggplant as it will cause discoloration.

salting

Some cooks salt cut eggplant and let it sit for up to an hour to leach out water and bitterness before cooking. In general, it’s not necessary to salt smaller eggplants, since they have fewer seeds than larger eggplants. Larger eggplants tend to become soft when cooked, so salting them before cooking leads to a firmer cooked texture. Bitterness is concentrated just under the skin, so peeling will also work on especially large eggplants.

Here are the directions, if you choose salting. Slice the eggplant according to your recipe and generously season the slices with kosher salt. Let them sit until you can see the liquid coming to the surface, 20-30 minutes (see photo above). Rinse the slices well and pat them dry. It’s also a good idea to use half as much salt as the recipe calls for (unless the recipe takes into account the fact that the eggplant has been salted).

Eggplant may be microwaved to remove excess water. Microwave slices on high for 4 to 6 minutes, remove, cover and let stand for a minute or two. Use paper towels and press lightly to soak up the water.

If you are baking a whole eggplant, be sure to puncture the skin in several places so it does not burst.

Add eggplant to soups and stews during the last 10 minutes of cooking to avoid overcooking.

Eggplant Measures and Equivalents

• 1 medium eggplant = about 1 pound.

• 1 medium eggplant = 4 to 6 servings.

• 1 pound eggplant = 3 to 4 cups diced.

• 1 serving = 1/3 pound as a side dish.

• 1 serving = 1/2 to 3/4 pound as a main dish.

linguine

Linguine with Eggplant 

8 servings

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 32 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf

Pasta

  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 3 thin eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, cut into strips
  • 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Crushed red pepper to taste

Directions

For the sauce:

Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add celery, carrots and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer, uncovered, over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

For the pasta:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil from the sun-dried tomato jar in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the marinara sauce and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and add the mozzarella cheese, basil, salt and pepper.

Serve in shallow pasta bowls, topped with Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, if desired.

Grilled-vegetable-goat-cheese-pizza-606x455

Flatbread Topped With Grilled Vegetables

Dough

  • 3 cups Italian-Style Flour (00) or other low-protein flour
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Topping

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 1 roasted red pepper, cut into 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves, optional

Directions

For the dough:

Mix and knead all of the ingredients — by hand or mixer — to make a soft, supple dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

To grill the vegetables:

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.

Brush a thin coating of the garlic oil onto each side of the eggplant rounds and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the eggplant rounds on the grill and cook for 5 minutes or until you see well-defined grill marks. Turn the rounds over and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes to achieve the same grill marks. Add the pepper and tomato slices, coated with garlic oil, during the last 2 minutes of grilling. Transfer to a plate until you’re ready to top the flatbreads.

To grill the flatbread:

Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a lightly greased sheet of parchment paper and stretch into 1/4″-thick irregular ovals. Flip one piece of dough from the greased parchment onto the heated grill. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until you see well-defined grill marks; then turn over.

Spread half the pesto onto the grilled side of the crust. Top with the grilled eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and cheese. Close the grill and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, then transfer to a serving plate. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Garnish flatbreads with basil leaves, if desired, and serve warm.

Yield: 2 flatbreads

To make the flatbread in the oven:

Preheat your oven to 450°F (with or without a baking stone). One at a time, place the rolled-out pieces of dough with their parchment directly onto a preheated pizza stone or onto a baking sheet. Bake until the dough is just starting to brown around the edges, about 4 minutes.

Grill vegetable slices on a stove top grill following directions above.

Remove crust from the oven, add toppings and bake for an additional 6 minutes, or until the pizzas are warm and bubbly.

stuffed eggplant

Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant

Servings 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 eggplant, cut in half and flesh scooped out and chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add sausage. Cook until browned, 8-10 minutes, breaking up sausage into pieces. Remove sausage from pan, drain on paper towels and set aside in a mixing bowl.

To the same skillet, add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook until almost tender, 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant flesh and salt; cook until browned. Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl with the sausage. Add parsley, chopped tomato, basil, thyme, marjoram, cayenne, the half cup mozzarella and the half cup Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, egg and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir to blend mixture evenly, then stuff into eggplant halves. Place stuffed eggplant on a baking sheet, top with remaining cheeses. Bake 45-50 minutes until tender.

eggplant balls

Eggplant Balls

I often make these for parties and they are a big hit with my vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends.

Makes about 15

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs, divided
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • Marinara sauce for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and place on a baking pan. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large mixing bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin.

Mix the cheese, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, salt, pepper and 1 cup of the bread crumbs into eggplant pulp. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until ingredients are thoroughly combined and mixture holds together.

Refrigerate mixture for 15 minutes, then roll into balls. Roll the outside of the balls in the ¼ cup remaining bread crumbs. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place eggplant balls on prepared baking sheet and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes turning once until nicely browned. Serve with warm marinara sauce, if desired.

eggplant fries

Baked Eggplant Fries with Lemon Sauce

Makes 4 servings

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into thin strips (peeled, if you choose)
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

Heat oven to 450°F.  Line a baking sheet (cookie) pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.

In a shallow bowl mix flour with salt and pepper. In another shallow bowl, beat egg with milk. In another shallow bowl, mix panko crumbs, crushed pepper flakes, garlic powder and paprika.

Dip eggplant strips into flour coating all sides; shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture. Roll in bread crumb mixture until coated. Place on prepared baking pan. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake about 20 minutes, turning once, or until coating is crisp and lightly golden.

For Lemon Sauce

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to chill and allow flavors to combine.

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