The ancient ancestors of eggplant grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C. Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country with which it has long been associated, in the 14th century. The eggplant made its first appearance in Sicily, and then, in other Italian southern regions, such as Naples and Calabria.
Eggplant Parmesan was often seen on our dinner table and my mother was fond of making this dish. As a child, I always enjoyed Eggplant Parmesan and I would look forward to when my mother made this for us. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how fattening Eggplant Parmesan can be when made in the traditional way because it is breaded, fried and covered in melted cheese. I have worked out a recipe that is delicious and healthy, if not traditional. I will share that preparation with you in this post.
Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration or scars or bruises, which usually indicates that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
I am fortunate to participate in a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) where I live and I am able to get wonderful eggplant all summer long. With so much eggplant at one time, I learned to prepare the eggplants for the freezer during the summer for future use.
Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in storing them. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold . Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for only a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since the plastic will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel will react with the eggplant flesh and cause it to turn black. Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends before peeling.
Making Eggplant Parmesan
Eggplant Parmesan is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation, which makes this an ideal vegetable to work with in your food preparation.
I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:
- 1 pound eggplant, peeled
- 1/2 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
- 1 cup Italian style Progresso bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker). You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a zip lock freezer bag. Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.
To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an 8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
- 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see earlier post for the recipe)
- 1-8 ounce package Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese (You certainly can use mozzarella cheese, if that is your preference.)
Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 6 servings and each serving is less than 200 calories.
Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable
One of my daughters-in-law is crazy about eggplant, so I try to come up with numerous dishes that fit different occasions for when she visits. The following recipe for Eggplant Rolls ( Eggplant Rollatini) is an excellent appetizer dish. Some chefs do not peel eggplant for this dish, but I prefer peeled eggplant because the dish will be more tender without the peel.
- 1 eggplant about 1 lb. Peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices. (Try to pick an eggplant that is more long than wide.)(See photo below.)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
- ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce
Combine the ricotta, Sargento cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.
Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice. Roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Place the eggplant rolls in a greased baking dish and drizzle with marinara sauce.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Arrange on a serving plate with fresh herbs to decorate.
Makes 8 appetizer servings.