The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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Eggplant Parmesan

Order the cannoli! Put the biscotti in the oven! Chill the prosecco! St. Joseph’s Feast Day is just around the corner! Across Italy and certainly throughout Sicily, as well as in many Italian-American households and communities around our own country, next Monday, St. Joseph’s Feast Day, will be marked by special religious services, street fairs, parades, and celebratory dinners. There’s even a special pastry (zeppola) and dish (fava beans) to be served in this Saint’s honor. So, why all the hoopla?

To start, and to eliminate any possible confusion with the many other St. Josephs, I’m speaking about Joseph, the carpenter who, along with Mary, raised the Christ Child, according to Christian beliefs. Perhaps because of its close proximity and relationship with the Vatican for so many centuries, the Church has exercised considerable control over Italy. Each town, village, city, district, in fact every community of any size, has at least one patron saint. And Saint Joseph is one very popular patron saint. Today, he is the Patron Saint of Sicily and that is the reason for the celebrations on Monday — but it wasn’t always that way.

The Holy Family - Michelangelo

According to legend, sometime during the Middles Ages, Sicily was struck by drought. As the earth dried and crops withered, famine became a very real possibility. Fava beans alone are all that kept the people from starvation. They prayed to St. Joseph, beseeching him to intercede on their behalf and to ask his “Son” to end the drought. In return, the people promised to hold a feast every year in his honor. The rains came, the drought ended, and mass starvation was averted. The grateful Sicilians proclaimed Saint Joseph their Patron Saint and his Feast Day is marked by celebrations to this very day.

Now, lacking both fava beans and the skills of a pasty chef, I decided to take a different path to honor this Saint. Since eggplant is used so often in Sicilian cuisine, I thought an eggplant dish would be appropriate. So, today’s recipe is eggplant parmesan, parmigiana di melanzane.

In recent years, the 3 most common parmigiana dishes — veal, chicken, and eggplant — have come under fire somewhat. Let’s face it, they aren’t exactly low-cal, by any measure. And, to be honest, it is only in the past few years that I’ve attempted to make them a bit lighter. In this case, where I used to fry the breaded slices of eggplant, I now bake them. In place of a meat sauce, I now use a marinara. Granted, you still won’t see this dish listed on any menu as the “Dieter’s Special”, but you will enjoy a lighter dish that is every bit as enjoyable as the more traditional preparations.

One further note deserves mention. During a recent post in which I shared instructions for making goat cheese, I asked if anyone knew of a nearby buffalo herd, implying that I’d use their milk to make mozzarella. Bufala mozzarella, by the way, is the most prized of all mozzarella cheeses. Judy@Savoring Today left a comment stating that bufala mozzarella, made in Italy, was available at, get this, Costco, of all places! Within days, I was at Costco and the parmigiana di melanzane pictured in today’s post is the result. Thank you, Judy!

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Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 – 8 cups marinara sauce (recipe below)
  • 2 eggplant, about 2 1/2 lbs. total
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 – 5 cups bread crumbs, more may be required
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced or shredded
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, pecorino romano may be substituted
  • salt & pepper

Directions

To prepare the eggplant

  1. Create a breading station.  In a large dish or flat-bottomed container, add the flour. Add the eggs and mild to a second such container and mix until well-combined.  Add to the 3rd container the bread crumbs, parsley, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Mix to thoroughly combine.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 400˚.
  3. Slice the eggplant, lengthwise, into 1/2 inch slices.
  4. Coat each eggplant slice with flour, shake off excess, and dip into egg wash. Allow excess to drip off before dipping into the bread crumb mixture to completely coat each slice. Place on a cooking rack that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Continue until all slices are breaded. You will need to use 2 racks or to bake 2 batches.
  5. Place eggplant-filled cooling rack on top of a large baking sheet and bake in pre-heated, 400˚ oven for 15 minutes or until very lightly browned.

Assembly & cooking instructions – family style

  1. Use a few ladles of sauce to coat the bottom of a large baking dish.
  2. Add eggplant slices to form a layer in the baking dish. Place a few ladles of sauce evenly across the breaded slices. Apply 1/3 of the mozzarella in an even layer across the eggplant. Finish the layer by sprinkling 1/3 of the parmesan cheese on top.
  3. Repeat step 2 twice, creating 3 layers in all and alternating the direction of each layer’s slices.
  4. Bake in 400˚ oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dish is bubbly and the cheese has cooked/browned to your liking.

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Variations

If prepared as indicated — and pictured — above, the result is more suitable for a “family style” dinner and resembles a tray of lasagna. If you like, you can easily “build” individual servings using 3 slices of eggplant and covering each layer with the sauce and cheese as above but keeping each serving separate from the others. Similarly, you can slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch disks, rather than lengthwise, and create smaller sized portions, perfect for use as primi piatti.

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Marinara Sauce

This marinara isn’t meant to be simmered for hours. The resulting, fresh-tasting sauce adds another flavor element to this vegetarian dish.

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 – 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp dried marjoram
  • salt & pepper

Directions

  1. Place onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped. Alternately, finely chop the vegetables and garlic by hand.
  2. Heat oil in a sauce pan over med-high heat. Add the optional red pepper flakes and sauté for about a minute.
  3. Add the finely chopped ingredients, season with salt & pepper, and cook until liquid has evaporated and they start to caramelize.
  4. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for about 2 more minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, wine, parsley, marjoram, and stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
  6. Continue to simmer until sauce has thickened and deepened in color,  about 60 minutes, on average. Check for seasoning and reserve for use in your recipe.

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Pasta alla Norma

The Italians love eggplant and no place is it better celebrated than in Sicily. For proof of that, one need look no further than today’s recipe, Pasta alla Norma. Named in honor of Bellini’s masterwork “Norma,” eggplant takes center stage in this recipe and the resulting dish, like its operatic inspiration, is sublime.

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Campanelle alla Norma

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Eggplant was no stranger to our table growing up. Mom often served them halved, topped with bread crumbs, and baked. Sometimes she cut them into discs before breading and frying them. Still other times, she cut them lengthwise to make planks, layering them with cheese and sauce to make a lasagna-like dish. Of course, like most Italian households, she also used eggplant to make her caponata. Comparing the two, caponata is actually more complicated than Pasta alla Norma. Whereas caponata consists of chopped eggplant and a variety of vegetables, Pasta alla Norma’s sauce is a product of just eggplant and marinara sauce. It’s hardly a difficult recipe to follow but it sure is a delicious way to dress a dish of pasta. And with our vegetable stands and markets just beginning to  display this season’s bounty, there’s no better time to try this little taste o’ Sicily.

The recipe calls for 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of eggplant. Rather than buy one large eggplant, I’ll buy 2 or 3 medium-sized ones. The larger the eggplant, the more seeds it will have and the more bitter it will be. The recipe, also, states that the eggplant should be cut into 1/2 cubes before being salted. You may find it easier to cut the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices and, after salting and rinsing, cut the slices into cubes. If you use small or “baby” eggplants, you needn’t cut them into cubes at all, but leave the slices as-is. The choice is yours.

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Pasta alla Norma Recipe

Ingredients

Norma's Notes

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 – 3 small/medium eggplants (1 – 1 1/2 lb total), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 – 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, more to taste (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 – 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can tomatoes, whole or diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped.
  • 2 – 3 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb pasta, i.e., rigatoni, penne, campanelle
  • reserved pasta water
  • 1/2 cup grated ricotta salata, reserving 2 – 3 tbsp

Directions

  1. Cut each eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Place 1/3 of the cubes in a colander and sprinkle with 1/3 of the salt. Add another third of the eggplant and sprinkle with another third of salt. Place the remaining 1/3 of the eggplant cubes in the colander and sprinkle with the last of the salt before carefully mixing the colander’s contents. Allow excess water to drain for 15 – 30 minutes. Give the colander & eggplant a quick rinse of tap water. Dump the rinsed eggplant onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and use more paper towels to pat dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-high heat.
  3. Begin sautéing the eggplant cubes. Do not overcrowd and work in batches, if necessary. Continue cooking until all cubes are lightly colored, adding more olive oil as needed. Remove cooked cubes and reserve for later.

    Grate Cheese

  4. If needed, add 2 tbsp olive oil and heat. If using the pepper flakes, add them now and cook for one minute.
  5. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  6. Season lightly with salt & pepper, add the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute.
  7. Add tomato paste, stir well, and continue cooking for a minute or so.
  8. Add tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, tear them into pieces before adding to the pan.
  9. Add the Italian seasoning & parsley, return the eggplant to the pan, and stir to combine everything. Once the sauce begins to boil, reduce the reduce heat to a simmer.
  10. The sauce will cook for 30 minutes. Check the pasta’s package directions and time its cooking so that the pasta is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente when the sauce is ready.
  11. Reserve some of the pasta water before adding the basil and the not quite al dente pasta to the frying pan. Mix well and continue cooking until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  12. Just before serving, add most of the ricotta salata and mix well. Check for seasoning and add salt & pepper, if needed.
  13. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved 2 – 3 tbsp ricotta salata.

Variations

Like I said, it’s is a simple dish with relatively few ingredients and, as such, there’s little room for variations other than the pasta selection and the cheese. For the pasta, I prefer to serve this sauce with pastas like penne, rigatoni, or campanelle (little bells) and not any of the ribbon-like pastas. As for the cheese, if I have ricotta salata, that’s great. If I don’t have any,  I’ll substitute some crumbled feta or, if all else fails, some grated parmesan cheese. I’ve even used some grated fresh mozzarella, so, I wouldn’t let the absence of ricotta salata prevent you from enjoying this dish.

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