Anyone who has ever played the game Password knows that if you got the word Parmesan then your clue would immediately be eggplant as a drawn out phrase. My cousin/sister Ginny makes the best homemade eggplant Parmesan that I have ever had ~ hands down. She fries the eggplant to a non-greasy perfection after ‘sweating’ out the moisture. We have all made it and all have our own secret ingredient or technique so I won’t bother posting the recipe. Before I share some of the ways that I love to prepare eggplant, let’s consider this unusual, uniquely shaped bit of produce.
Eggplant comes in a multitude of shapes, colors and varieties. It actually is classified as a fruit like tomatoes and peppers. This fruit bears pretty pale, purple flowers. They love hot, humid summers and rich soil with compost or manure which is interesting since they have fairly shallow roots. Do not plant eggplant until you have consistent warm days and choose a quick maturing variety if you want somewhat guaranteed success. They can be grown in pots as well. I especially like the long, thin Japanese variety as opposed to the classic, purple-skinned variety with a larger, globe shape as their skin is edible and not bitter at all.
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool, eggplants have likely long ago been harvested. You may have already prepared your eggplant parmesan casseroles to freeze and are thinking about the cool season vegetables now. Eggplant is however readily available in the grocery stores year round.
My friend Ellen has the most wonderful fried eggplant recipe. You believe you are eating mushrooms. Ellen uses the long thin variety and cuts paper thin slices with the skin. She then deep fries them, drains the little delicacies on paper towels and sprinkles Parmesan cheese on top. Yes, you died and went to heaven. A few weeks ago I tried to prepare this but forgot that she fries the eggplant. I sautéed it instead ~ okay, but it didn’t have that “what am I eating” culinary surprise as hers does. Try it…well worth the saturated fat calories and of course the dietary ‘fiber’!
I will grill or roast any fruit or vegetable available in the market. There’s something about that intense heat that brings out the sweet joy of what that produce should really taste like. Next time you purchase or grow eggplant try one of my recipes…
ALI’S LEMON GRILLED EGGPLANT
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Juice and zest of one fresh lemon
- Salt and pepper
- One large, round eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices; skin on*
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Feta cheese, crumbled
- Whisk oil, lemon zest and juice and salt and pepper.
- Brush eggplant with combined dressing.
- Grill over medium-high heat for 6 minutes, turning once.
- Remove from the heat; pour any reserved dressing over the eggplant.
- Sprinkle with parsley and feta cheese.
- Let rest a few minutes before serving warm.
*Tip: Leave the skin on to maintain the shape then remove after cooking, if desired. Eggplant has a wonderful meaty texture but the skin is often quite tough and chewy.
Here’s an oldie but a goodie of mine ~ a plentiful meatless dish or a side. I have even served my classic at dinner parties.
ALI”S TOMATO, ZUCCHINI AND EGGPLANT STACKS
- ½ c. plus 2 T. olive oil
- 2 large sweet onions, diced
- Salt/pepper to taste
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- Fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- 1 T. fresh oregano, chopped
- ¼ c. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 large eggplant, sliced 1/8 in. thick
- 2 large tomatoes, sliced ¼ in. thick
- 1 large zucchini, sliced 1/8 in. thick
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm 6 T. olive oil. Add onion, salt and pepper and cook until soft.
- Add garlic, oregano and parsley (DO NOT SKIMP ON THE HERBS); cook 2 minutes.
- Spray bottom of casserole pan. Place eggplant slices in single layer, season with salt.
- Top each with onion mixture then a tomato slice, season with salt.
- Top again with onion mixture then a zucchini slice.
- Repeat the layers, ending with zucchini. Drizzle each stack with 1 tsp. oil.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven, sprinkle each stack with cheese, and bake 10 minutes more.
- Remove from oven and let stacks rest 10 minutes.
Eggplant is so versatile in recipes. Throw it in a gratin with other summer vegetables; make a spicy caponata or a comforting ratatouille. The fruit is so lovely that you can even stuff it for a different presentation. Just be sure to serve these gems in white dishes to showcase their luscious colors!