Food or Art?
We didn’t eat eggplant in my childhood home. Such a thing wouldn’t have been grown in neighbors’ gardens and you wouldn’t find eggplant on the menu of our one and only Chinese restaurant, the Cathay Cafe. This old world favorite would never find its way into the kitchen at Betty’s, our favorite diner. Someone in town must have known what they are because the strange, purple skinned lobes eventually found their way into the local Albertson’s. We didn’t know the people who bought them. I was an adult when I first tasted baba ghanush in a Mediterranean cafe in Salt Lake City and I was sold on the first bite.
We make rattatoui with most of the eggplants that cross our threshold. This simple, hearty staple seems so perfect for our cool, foggy summer weather. Eggplant, tomato, onion, pepper and garlic with tons of good extra virgin olive oil and sea salt to season – perfection! Of course, we live in a Mediterranean climate and these beauties grow well in the warm inland valleys around the Bay Area. They’re grown in all their diverse glory by farmers who care about the land and water that nourish them. We find them in every farmer’s market and, of course, in our neighborhood groceries.
The gorgeous Roso & Bianco variety pictured above sat on our counter for a few days “expressing” its beauty and inviting the camera lens. Jason finally pressed, asking me to reveal my intentions and I honestly couldn’t think of a single reason to cut it up. Alas, these things don’t last forever and letting it spoil would be a shame. I sliced in into half inch thick “steaks” and pan roasted the slices slowly in a bit of olive oil. With a little salt and pepper, these slices could be used for any number of dishes. We ultimately decided they were best eaten as the main ingredient to our lunch sandwiches. With a little lemon pesto and toaster oven heat, the sandwiches we created were amazing!
If you haven’t cooked with eggplant, take note of the following:
- In spite of the diversity of size, shape and color, most eggplant tastes the same and all can be used in your favorite recipes.
- The big, dark purple globe eggplant may need to be peeled before cooking, but that depends on your taste for the skin and the age of the eggplant. As with so many fruits and vegetables, there are several valuable micro-nutrients in that colorful skin so figure out how to enjoy it.
- Most eggplant is a little bitter. The larger, darker the seeds, the more bitter the eggplant. Be sure to cut the eggplant up to your recipe’s spec, put it in a colander in your sink and then salt it liberally. Let it stand for a half hour then rinse the salt and liquids off. Dry it and proceed with the recipe.
It’s late summer, eggplant is everywhere and its uses are endless. Get out and try some. If you’re afraid to cook it yourself, try it the next time your in a restaurant that features it on the menu. Experiment!
Cheers – Steve