Eggplant comes in a range of shapes and colors. Globe eggplants are the largest and most common type. Different varieties of the plant produce fruit (yes, eggplant is a fruit) of different sizes, shapes and color. A much wider range of shapes, sizes and colors are grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Colors vary from white to yellow or green, as well as reddish-purple and dark purple. Some eggplant have a color gradient, from white at the stem to bright pink to deep purple or even black. Green or purple eggplant in white striping also exist.
Traditional, white-skinned, egg-shaped eggplant include ‘Casper’ and ‘Easter Egg’. Bi-colored cultivars with color gradient include ‘Rosa Bianca’, ‘Violetta di Firenze’, ‘Bianca Sfumata di Rosa’ (heirloom) and ‘Prosperosa’ (heirloom). I prefer the smaller version of the larger purple skinned eggplant that is often called Italian or baby eggplant, especially the Rosa Bianca variety. These have a somewhat more intense flavor, few seeds and the flesh is much more tender.
Eggplant is at its best in the summer. The flesh of an eggplant should give a bit when gently pressed; it should have no hard spots. The skin should be shiny and smooth, not mottled. Stems should be green. Avoid any with brown or soft spots.
Whole eggplant will keep up to a few days in a cool place. Avoid storing in the refrigerator, as this will damage the eggplant’s texture. It is best to use eggplant as soon as you can because the flesh turns bitter quickly, even when they are not overripe. There are as many variations on the reasons for using salt on eggplant as there are celebrity chefs. The main reason to use salt on eggplant is because the fruit has a very high moisture content. When eggplant is broiled or sautéed in a pan, it will usually steam and end up being mushy. The solution is to draw the moisture out before cooking. By sprinkling salt on the eggplant, water is drawn to the surface. Crystals of salt (no matter what the size) dissolve in the moisture on the surface of the eggplant and form a concentrated salt solution. The high concentration of salt then pulls moisture from inside the fruit. Rinsing and patting dry the eggplant won’t result in it absorbing a significant amount of water (it is porous but not a sponge). The more salt you use or the longer it is on the eggplant, the more effective this technique will be.
The other reason given for salting eggplant is to remove bitterness. This is a bit of an old wives tale. Eggplant becomes bitter as it ages. All of the salt in the world can’t change that. The key is to buy fresh eggplant and use it quickly.
Eggplant has a great deal of flavor and it is good for you. There have virtually no calories (about 20 calories in a cup of raw fruit). There’s very little fat or carbohydrates but it has a fair amount of fiber (2 grams in a cup). Eggplant makes the perfect base for a variety of delicious entrees, side dishes and snacks.
For the grilled eggplant:
- 8 – 1/2 inch slices eggplant
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Grill directly over medium coals or medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, turning once. Cool slightly.
For the dip:
- 1 cup canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup grilled eggplant
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Olive oil and fresh mint
- Walnuts, toasted
- Grilled pita wedges or focaccia
In a food processor finely chop chickpeas, mint and garlic. Add lemon juice, salt and grilled eggplant. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle fresh mint and walnuts on top. Serve with grilled pita or focaccia.
Pasta with Grilled Eggplant and Burrata Cheese
Burrata cheese is a creamier cousin of mozzarella. Pennoni pasta come from the Campania region and belong to the short, smooth diagonal pasta cuts.
- 5 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced
- Coarse salt
- 1 pound pennoni, rigatoni or orecchiette, cooked until al dente (1 cup pasta cooking water reserved)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 8 ounces burrata or mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
- 1/2 cup small basil leaves
Heat an outdoor or indoor grill to medium. Brush eggplants with oil. Grill, turning occasionally, until soft and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let cool. Coarsely chop eggplant.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic until golden, about 3 minutes. Add eggplant and chili; toss to coat. Season with salt.
Toss in pasta, reserved cooking water, lemon zest and juice. Remove from heat. Stir in burrata and mint. Serve immediately.
Grilled Vegetable Muffaletta
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
- Coarse salt
- 1/2 cup pitted mixed olives, such as Kalamata and Cerignola
- 2 pepperoncini (peppers), stemmed and seeded
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
- 4 plum tomatoes (1 pound), sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
- 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise 1/4-inch-thick
- 1 jar (12 ounces) roasted red peppers, patted dry
- 1 (8-inch) round loaf rustic bread, split horizontally and hollowed out
In a colander, toss eggplant with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Rinse and dry eggplant.
In a food processor, pulse olives, pepperoncini and parsley until very finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in yogurt.
Heat a grill or grill pan to medium. Lightly oil the hot grill.
Mix eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini with oil and season with salt. Grill, turning frequently, until tender and slightly charred, about 4 minutes for tomatoes and about 7 minutes each for eggplant and zucchini.
Spread bread with olive mixture. Assemble sandwich with peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Roasted Eggplant Wrap
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
- Vegetable oil, cooking spray
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 small onion, peeled, root end left intact, halved lengthwise, cut into 8 wedges
- 1 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed
- 6 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 11 tomatoes), halved (quartered if large)
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 4 whole-wheat wraps ( 8 inches each)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon each thyme and oregano in a small bowl; set vinaigrette aside.
Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix eggplant, zucchini, onion and remaining 2 teaspoons each thyme and oregano in a large bowl. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Roast, tossing occasionally, until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Transfer vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and salt; season with pepper. Drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat.
Arrange mozzarella in the center of each wrap. Top each with 1 1/4 cups of the vegetable salad. Roll up and cut in half.
Baked Eggplant Fries
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
- 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup Marinara (tomato) sauce
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Stir together the panko, rosemary, thyme, paprika and salt in a shallow dish.
Cut each slice of eggplant into three somewhat equal pieces
In a separate dish, whisk the egg and olive oil together.
Dip an eggplant slice into the egg mixture and then dredge in the panko mixture. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until the fries are crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately with heated marinara sauce.
Is Cheese Healthy?
Because of its relatively high fat content, cheese has gotten the bad reputation as an unhealthy food. But it actually can be quite healthy, especially , if eaten in moderation. The trick is to know which kinds of cheeses are best and how to use them. Try freshly grated Parmesan or Romano on your finished dishes, and you can add a tremendous amount of flavor without a lot of fat or calories. A little sprinkle makes just about everything taste better!
One ounce of cheese has 27 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, 26 percent of phosphorus and 2 percent of magnesium. Calcium and phosphorus combine to form the mineral part of bones. Magnesium is an essential part of protein that supports calcium and phosphorus. Throughout your life, old or damaged bone is dissolved and then replaced with new bone. If you don’t consume enough of these minerals to support that continuous rebuilding process, then you’ll begin to lose bone density and develop osteoporosis.
Cheese is loaded with calcium. You need calcium to maintain strong and healthy bones. What you might not know, however, is that cheese also contains Vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining bones and cartilage and it allows the calcium to be absorbed by your body. Calcium and Vitamin D, once again, bolster the strength of your teeth and help prevent cavities and the wearing down of tooth enamel. It can be seen as a good dietary way to prevent osteoporosis since it builds up bone density and maintains the strength of your body.
The government’s current dietary guidelines for dairy intake is 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy per day. For cheese, a serving equivalent takes the form of 1.5 ounces of hard cheese, 1/3 cup shredded cheese, or ½ cup of soft cheese.
The Cheeses of Italy
In Italian American cuisine, cheese is often added to everything, not so in Italy. There are certain foods that call for cheese, others that do not. The no cheese with fish custom has nothing to do with snobbery. Most Italians feel that cheese would overwhelm the delicate taste of fish.
Although most Americans think of mozzarella and Parmesan as typical Italian cheeses, Italy produces many varieties with each individual Italian region quite proud of their own. Many Italian varieties are not available in America, but the cheeses listed are some of the more common cheeses you can find in the United States.
Mozzarella is a generic term for the several kinds of fresh Italian varieties that are made by spinning and then cutting: the Italian verb”mozzare” actually means to cut. Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the milk of water buffalos.
Today, two types of mozzarella are produced in the USA. Low-moisture mozzarella produced primarily for pizza, and fresh high-moisture mozzarella which is quite soft and can be eaten as appetizers or in salads. With the increasing popularity of Italian food, fresh high-moisture mozzarella is now readily available in USA supermarkets. Most fresh mozzarella is now made from cow’s milk, although it can be made from a combination of milks including goat’s milk and a small amount of buffalo-milk. It is also possible to get buffalo milk mozzarella imported from Italy.
Gorgonzola is a creamy, firm bleu variety originating from Lombardy, Italy. It can range from mild to sharp and is often used in dips, salads or paired with beef.
Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese, milky-white in color, spreads easily and often is used instead of butter to thicken and enrich risotto. It is also a main ingredient of tiramisu and lasagna. Mascarpone is used in various dishes of Lombardy, Italy, where it is a specialty.
Ricotta – The name “ricotta” means “cooked again” (“re-cooked”) in Italian, referring to the second processing of the liquid done to produce the cheese. A traditional creamy cheese made from the whey of cow or sheep’s milk and is very similar to cottage cheese, though considerably lighter and with more flavor. Its excellent in lasagna and desserts.
Provolone is an Italian cheese that originated in southern Italy. It is basically mozzarella that has been aged and sometimes smoked. It is drier than fresh mozzarella and is therefore excellent on sandwiches.
Bel Paese is a mild, white creamy cheese made from cow’s milk. Originally produced in Melzo, a small town near Milan in the Lombardy region, it is now made in both Italy and the United States. It has a mild, buttery flavor and served with fruity wines. It is excellent as a snack or dessert cheese and melts easily for use on pizzas or in casseroles. It can be used as a substitute for mozzarella cheese.
Fontina Val d’Aosta is one of the oldest cheeses in Italy. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley since the 12th century. Made from cow’s milk, Fontina melts well and is often used as a dessert cheese and in fondue. It is excellent on pizza as well.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a grana, or a hard, granular Italian cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. The word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep. Most are aged and sharp. Of the four main varieties of mature pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, Pecorino Romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially, in the United States which has been an important export market for the cheese since the nineteenth century.
Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan). It also needs to be bought whole and grated fresh to enjoy its wonderful flavor. Its distinctive, strong, very salty flavor goes well with pasta dishes with highly flavored sauces.
Asiago is a hard cheese from the Veneto region and develops a strong flavor as it ages. It is grated and perfect for sauces or for slicing over salads.
Recipes That Use Cheese in a Healthy Way
Spinach Stuffed Lasagna Rolls
- 8 uncooked lasagna noodles
- Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
- 2 packages (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups prepared marinara sauce, (see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/)
- 1/2 cup shredded skim mozzarella
Combine spinach, ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg substitute and salt and pepper. Refrigerate while cooking the pasta.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 9”x13” baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add noodles and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and gently transfer to a clean dish towel.
Working with one noodle at a time, spread with about Spread a heaping 1/3 cupful over each noodle.. If you have any filling leftover, divide it evenly among the rolls.
Starting at one end, roll up the lasagna noodle tightly; then arrange in pan either seam-side down or with the rolls close enough together to hold each other closed.
Pour remaining marinara over assembled rolls then sprinkle with mozzarella and bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.
Grilled Eggplant with Ricotta and Tomato-Basil Relish
For the grilled tomato-basil relish:
8 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil plus fresh leaves, for garnish
Heat your grill to high.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on the grill and cook until charred on all sides, and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and coarsely chop.
DO NOT TURN OFF THE GRILL.
Put the chopped tomatoes in a bowl, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, onion, vinegar and basil and gently mix until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Can be made 4 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.
For the eggplant:
- 8 slices (1 large eggplant, ends trimmed, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices)
- Olive oil for brushing on eggplant slices
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lightly brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn them over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir together the ricotta and parsley in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Place the grilled eggplant on a large platter and top each slice with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta and a heaping tablespoon of the tomato relish.
Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Asiago Cheese
- 4 beef tenderloin steaks, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 5-6 oz.each)(organic, grass-fed beef is healthier)
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup lower sodium beef broth
- 1-8-ounce package sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 ounce Asiago cheese, shaved
- 4 cups arugula dressed with Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette, to taste
Trim fat from steaks. Rub both sides of steaks with pepper.
In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
Add steaks to skillet; reduce heat to medium. Cook to desired doneness, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Allow 7 minutes for medium rare (145 F) to 9 minutes for medium (160 F). Transfer steaks to a plate and keep warm.
Add beef broth to skillet. Cook and stir until bubbly to loosen any browned bits in bottom of skillet. Return mushrooms to the skillet and heat.
Place 1 cup of arugula dressed with the Orange Balsamic dressing to taste on each of four dinner plates.
Place a steak on top and spoon mushroom sauce over steaks. Sprinkle with shaved cheese.
Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
- 1 medium garlic clove
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/4 cup white or red balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Peel the garlic clove and smash with the side of a chef’s knife. Using a fork, mash the garlic with the salt in a small bowl to form a coarse paste. Whisk in oil. Add juice, vinegar and mustard; whisk until well blended.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. The oil will solidify, so bring to room temperature and whisk before using.
- Cheese is OK for dieters, health watchers – study says (abclocal.go.com)
- Toast Post: Alberta’s Farmstead Buffalo Mozzarella (cheeseandtoast.com)
- Farm to Fork: Cheese Making Workshop!! 4/30 (stanfordfarmproject.wordpress.com)