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Volume 38 Issue 20, Sept. 11 - 17, 2008
now in our 38th season

Eggplant & Silence

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

Hear that?  Me neither, and I have been longing for that lack of resonance for a few weeks now. I do so love the pace and fury of the summer and appreciate the influx of so many people, but right around the third week of August, I start to fantasize about silence and a slower, easier rhythm. Now, altogether…one collective sigh…..we’ve made it.

The joy of this time of year is that we still have all of the beauty and abundance of the summer, and we get to share it with people that we know, or would like to get to know. There are so many familiar faces that I see in the market and grocery store, and so many names that I don’t know.  I would imagine for many it’s the same.  Living in a small town, I think there’s a sense of familiarity of people just because we see them or hear their name.  Every so often, it’s like putting puzzle pieces together for me when I actually meet someone that I feel I’ve “known” for some time, only to connect them to a name that I’ve “known” for years.  This time of year, before everyone scatters for warmer climes or heads to their off-island lives, share a meal and say “hello.”

In addition to longing for the autumn pace, I am looking forward to autumn cooking.  It’s truly my favorite time of year to make meals.  After the lightness and freshness of the whole, fresh food of summer and preparing meals that are ready to eat as you assemble them, it’s a study in patience to have to wait for the slower cooked meals, allowing them to fill your house with the aroma of every ingredient.  The longer cooking times also give us a chance to share a glass of wine and savor a conversation. Time to slow down and breathe easy.

One of my favorite vegetables to cook this time of year is eggplant.  I love it grilled, fried, roasted, breaded and stewed.  It has so much texture and depth of flavor.  I love a good salad, but feel deprived with some vegetable recipes; almost as though I forgot an ingredient and I want more of something.  I never feel that way with eggplant.  There’s something almost meaty about it that, as a carnivore, I appreciate and enjoy.

There are several varieties, and most of them do benefit from being at least partially peeled.  When I stew them or make eggplant parmesan, I usually don’t peel them, as the prolonged cooking times seem to take care of any toughness.  If you feel strongly about peeling them, go right ahead.

The long, slender Japanese Eggplant are great for grilling.  Cut them lengthwise and score them in a diamond pattern.  Salt the cut side, and place them on a rack which is set on a sheet pan with sides.  After about an hour, lightly rinse the salt and squeeze any excess moisture.  Pat dry with paper towels.

To grill your eggplant, make certain that your grill is clean and hot.  Eggplant can be very spongy and absorbent, so I prefer not to directly toss it with oil.  An oil spray, or a well oiled grill will cut down on the potential greasiness of your finished dish.  When I grill eggplant or actually any vegetable, I douse paper towels with vegetable oil, and rub the grill grates with this just before putting the vegetables on.  Leave your eggplant on for three or four minutes, giving them a quarter turn to create grill marks and cooking for another 2 or 3 minutes. Turn them over, repeat the cooking time.

After they are thoroughly cooked, place them on a platter and toss with your favorite vinaigrette, or a good olive oil.

A home made baba ghanoush is easier than you might think.

Baba Ghanoush

For this dish, either oven roasting or charring the eggplant will add flavor. If you have time, a good vent over your stove, and a tolerance for smoke, (along with a gas stove) you can certainly do this on your stove top.  First, pierce the eggplant four or five times to allow steam and moisture to escape. Place directly on the flame, and turn until charred and wilted.  This can also be done on a hot grill.  The easier method is a 400 degree oven for about an hour.  Much less attention is required and a more evenly roasted eggplant is the result.  Once your eggplant is roasted, allow it to cool, and remove the skin.  Do this over a bowl to save all of the juices.

I do like garlic in this dish, but prefer a roasted garlic.  Break a head of garlic apart into separate cloves.  Place in a shallow baking dish and cover.  Bake with the eggplant.

Mash the roasted eggplant.  You can use a processor, but I prefer the rougher texture and mash by hand.

For every two cups of mashed eggplant, add the following:

  • Four to six cloves (more or less!) of roasted, mashed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • One quarter cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • One half teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To serve, drizzle the top with a good, green olive oil.  Baba Ghanoush is a great dip to serve with toasted pita chips, a good bread, whole grain crackers or a crudite.

For a hearty meal, we really enjoy this moussaka.  Traditionally made with lamb, this dish is so scrumptious and filling, that you won’t feel as though you’re missing a thing.

Vegetarian Moussaka

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • 1 eggplant, sliced thin, salted and drained
  • 2 sweet potatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic
  • 4 cups peeled  plum tomatoes, seeded & chopped (canned are fine, but fresh are plentiful right now)
  • 4 cups cooked lentils (I have used bulghar, cous cous, and quinoa as substitutes with great, albeit different results.)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Two cups feta cheese, crumbles
  • Two cups parmesan cheese, grated

Bechamel sauce

In a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk the following until smooth:

  • One quarter cup flour
  • Two ounces butter
  • Pour in one and one quarter cups milk

Stir to combine and bring to a boil, stir constantly until smooth and thick.

Add:

  • One half teaspoon nutmeg
  • One half teaspoon pepper

Set béchamel sauce aside, but keep warm.

After your eggplant is salted and drained, brown it lightly in a saute pan until just brown.  Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

In same pan, saute onion and roasted garlic until browned and soft. Add tomatoes and herbs.

Spread a layer of béchamel sauce on bottom of a buttered casserole. Add a thin layer, but enough to cover the sauce, of cooked lentils.  Add eggplant, sweet potato slices, and a handful of each of the cheeses.  Top with tomato and onion mixture.  Add another thin layer of béchamel, and continue layering until all of the components are used.  Top with remaining cheeses.

Bake in preheated oven, covered, for 30 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for an additional fifteen minutes.

This is a dish that benefits greatly from sitting for a half an hour or so after coming out of the oven.  Just enough time to finish that conversation and pour another glass of wine.

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