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Volume 39 Issue 16 • Aug 27-Sept 2, 2009
now in our 39th season

Aubergine

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

I am a pretty open minded person, especially when it comes to food.  I am not proud to admit there are a couple foods that I really don’t enjoy, and until recently one of them was eggplant.  I am not certain when my prejudice against eggplant began, but what I do remember is a bitter, spongy, and seedy sensation that made me not want to eat it ever again.  My poor mother tried unsuccessfully to get me to eat her gorgeous garden grown eggplant.  Sadly I am a very stubborn person, and maintained my “NO EGGPLANT” stance for quite sometime.  My mother is also a very stubborn person and insisted that I was welcome to go hungry if I didn’t want to eat it.  Needless to say I went hungry a few nights, but that was a testament to how much I genuinely thought I disliked the vegetable. 

I believe that if I had not misunderstood eggplant I might have given it another try.  One problem was that I thought there was only one type of eggplant—I was very wrong!  There are so many varieties, ranging from fairly large and dark purple to about the size of a golf ball and white and green in color.  The amount of seeds and the texture vary dramatically between these varieties.  Had I tried different types of eggplant, I may have enjoyed them much more.  Today, I especially like the long slender Japanese Eggplant; they contain fewer seeds and grill up beautifully when sliced in half.  They also retain a meatier texture than their bigger, spongier relatives. 

The real key to good eggplant is using the appropriate preparation for the type of eggplant.  I already stated the smaller eggplant tend to be good grilled, whereas the larger tend to be better sliced thin, and then breaded and fried.  Eggplant parmesan is a lovely way to dine on eggplant.  When correctly prepared, it can be light, crispy, and elegant.  I especially enjoy more exotic preparations of eggplant.  Baba Ghanoush is one of my favorite eggplant dishes.  Baba Ghanoush is a smoky, mashed eggplant dish that is often served as a dip with flatbread (much like hummus).

 Baba Ghanoush

  • 2 medium eggplant
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup tahini (sesame butter)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cumin, freshly roasted and ground if possible
  • 2 T.  olive oil
  • 1 T. Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat your grill to medium high, (if it is a charcoal grill it is ready when the coals are glowing and white all over).   Place the whole eggplant on the grill, turning frequently until the skin blisters, and the flesh becomes soft (about 15 minutes).  Remove the eggplant from the grill and let cool enough to handle.  Remove the skin and discard it.  Mash the eggplant flesh in a bowl with the remaining ingredients except olive oil, taste and season if necessary with salt and pepper.  Place the baba ghanoush in a serving dish, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve at room temperature with pita bread, or chips.  Also great accompanied by kalamata olives, and roasted peppers. 

I also love eating eggplant in Thai or Indian Restaurants.  The flavor of the eggplant goes very well with curries and with spicy sauces.  I especially love Thai eggplant with basil sauce; it is a real treat and full of unexpected flavor. Ratatouille is another very traditional dish that I have grown to love, it makes use of all the vegetables of the season and can be eaten as a hearty main dish, or a light side dish. 

The most memorable meal with eggplant I have ever eaten was made by a friend of mine from China.  I had never really liked eggplant, but he insisted I try his version.  He made a wonderful peanut sauce with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and scallions.  Then he carefully grilled the slices of eggplant and toward the end of the process he brushed on the peanut sauce.  It was quite delicious.  Then was when I decided to experiment with other dishes that contained eggplant.  One of my favorite experiments was done by a friend of mine: it was eggplant croutons.  They were eggplant that was diced and tossed in seasoned flour and then deep fried for a few minutes.  The texture was light, and crispy.  The flavor delicate, they were quite addicting. 

Since it is the height of summer and the garden vegetables are wonderful, here is a recipe that combines them nicely:  Veggie Lasagna.  Some people are traditional and like to use noodles, ricotta, and vegetables layered with a nice marinara and mozzarella cheese.  I like some of the recipes that don’t contain noodles at all, but they use the thinly sliced vegetables in lieu of noodles, to create layers.  The following is such a recipe. 

Vegetarian Lasagna

Serves 4-6

For the Marinara sauce:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced, or minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 1 large can of Italian diced tomatoes (35 oz)
  • 1 small bunch basil, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

    Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 20-25 minutes.   Add the basil, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

For the lasagna:

  • 2 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2-3 portabella mushrooms, sliced and sautéed and liquid drained off
  • 1 broccoli crown, thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow squash, sliced lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/ 4 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T. parsley, freshly chopped
  • 1 T. basil, freshly chopped
  • 1 T. oregano, freshly chopped

In a bowl mix together the ricotta, egg, parmesan, and fresh herbs, set aside.  Oil an 8x10” baking dish (or similar sized dish).  Layer the one quarter of the marinara, then some eggplant slices (making a full layer, as if it were pasta), mushrooms, then half of the ricotta mixture, and top with a little marinara.  For the next layer use the zucchini, broccoli, ricotta, and marinara.  Top with a layer of yellow squash slices and a little marinara.  Garnish with the mozzarella, and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, rotate the dish and continue to bake until the dish is bubbly and the cheese browned (about 10-15 more minutes).  Let the dish cool for 5-10 minutes before trying to slice it. 

The great thing about this recipe is other vegetables may be substituted, or added to make the dish heartier.  It is great for experimenting, or to just cleaning out your fridge.  I have made it with spinach, carrots, leeks, peppers, green beans, peas, and it was just as good, sometimes better than the original recipe.   Cooked ground meat is also good layered into this lasagna.  One of my friends swears that ground turkey is the best in this lasagna, and it is still a healthy dish.  I have also tried it with spicy ground pork, beef, or a combination, and it has been very good!  Beans or olives, or extra cheese are good additions to the dish as well.  Have fun and try whatever sounds good together. 

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