In Praise and Enjoyment of Eggplant

I come before you today in praise of eggplant. I was not a huge fan of eggplant for much of my life, but in the last few years I find myself enjoying it more and more (perhaps because I now grow it in my garden every summer). As Mark Bittman, the NY Times cooking writer and cookbook author says, there is really nothing else like it, when it is well cooked: creamy and rich, with a complex flavor. Eggplant is on sale for $1 a pound at No Frills this week!
There are a number of ways to cook eggplant. This time of year, grilling is the obvious choice – simply slice lengthwise into half inch slices (either peeled or not), salt, brush on some olive oil, and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. This can also be done under a broiler in the oven. I like the peel for it’s flavour and chewy texture, so I leave it on. Eggplants can also be roasted whole in a hot oven, for making dips such as baba ganoush.

The classic eggplant dish is probably eggplant parmesan, which is essentially lasagne made with eggplant slices instead of pasta (thus gluten-free). Here is a simple recipe that serves six people:

Eggplant Parmesan

2 medium-large eggplants (2-3 lbs total)
Olive oil as needed
All-purpose flour
Black pepper
2 cups tomato sauce
Mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups (1/2 lb)
Parmesan cheese, 1 cup
Fresh basil leaves (if available)

Peel the eggplant if you prefer, especially if the skin is thick or the eggplant is not perfectly firm.
Cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices, and salt lightly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil into a heavy skillet, over medium heat.
Coat the eggplant slices with flour, and shake off excess.
Put the slices in the pan, a few at a time, and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
Add black pepper as the eggplant cooks.
When nicely browned, drain on paper towels.

In an oiled 9 by 13 inch baking dish:
Put some tomato sauce on the bottom.
Add a layer of eggplant slices, sprinkle with the cheeses, then basil leaves (you may substitute dried basil or oregano if you prefer).
Repeat these layers until all eggplant is used. Finish with tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan.

Bake until hot and bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes. Use more fresh basil or parsley on top as a garnish. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Last night I made a slightly fancier version involving ricotta cheese (which I consider rather expensive at $6 or more a pint), which was also very good. I like the chewiness of the eggplant skins contrasted with the two different smooth textures of the ricotta and the eggplant. But the above is more economical and equally delicious. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittmann (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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