I am drawn to eggplants. I see them looking all plump and purple and shiny and fabulous in the grocery store and I inevitably end up with one in my cart and then my fridge. That is the point at which I usually wonder what the heck to do with it. Sure there are the usual recipes: ratatouille, braised beef and eggplant, baba ganouj…… I find myself often putting off dealing with my little fridge bound eggplant until it almost starts to brown and then I panic. It is not a vegetable that I was raised with. It is clearly not a vegetable that I am totally comfortable with. But oh-my-sweet-goodness when eggplant is cooked well it is sublime. That must be why I keep buying them. Chasing the perfect eggplant application. I remember I was at a chefs meeting at the local Italian cultural centre and the chef there had presented us with a very simple antipasto platter which included grilled eggplant and zucchini, bread, some bocconcini and crusty bread. He served the vegetables cold and plain: simply grilled for the grill marks and then maybe baked to cook through. They seemed to be tossed with a little olive oil and salt and dusted with fresh cracked pepper just prior to service. They were amazing. Buttery spreadable thick slices of eggplant to put on top of the crusty bread or eat with some seasoned tomatoes. Perfect.
Let’s get back to my most recent experiment with eggplant. It is saturday night. I have people coming over for a bonfire in a few hours and notice that I have once again neglected to cook that damn eggplant in the fridge. So I get a little proactive, thinking “ok. Let’s salt this puppy and maybe there will be a chance to cook it later tonight.” I salted. I forgot about it. My friends came over. I poured drinks. I noticed salted eggplant on counter. Damn. Hoping to quickly “deal with it” I threw a pan on the stove, cranked up the heat to high, blotted the sliced of eggplant with paper towel, seasoned them with some oil and pepper and cooked them on both sides for a few minutes. Of course my plan was mainly to hopefully avoid having the slices oxidize overnight. The delightful result was an awesome way for me to feel capable of breaking down an eggplant preparation into manageable parts so that I can successfully cook it over a few weeknights or on a weekend. Yay! (try this. It turns out AWESOME!)
rustic eggplant with tomatoes and gnocchi
1 large purple beautiful eggplant
some coarse salt
paper towel and a baking sheet
1 largeish clove garlic
more olive oil
1 tomato, diced
fresh basil leaves if you have any kicking around (shame if you don’t. it is summer. grow things)
passata, tomato puree, or some tomato sauce
a splash of white wine
One package preformed store bought potato gnocchi
Alright folks. You can do this. Please at least try it once.
Cut the top and bottom off of the eggplant and discard it. Leaving the skin on, slice the eggplant into centimeter thick slices and lay them out on paper towel on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Flip. Repeat. Leave it alone for about an hour. Or longer. The salt draws bitterness out of the fruit and also will begin to force liquid of it. It will look a little weepy. Ignore it entirely. It is totally fine. Don’t touch.
At some point later go and pat your eggplant dry with fresh paper towel. Rub any excess salt off of it. Remove the eggplant to a fresh plate or cutting board and drizzle with some olive oil and crack some pepper on it. Put a saute pan on high heat. Add a little oil to the pan and then add the eggplant slices. Do not overlap them. Sear them well for a couple of minutes on each side. They should be golden brown.
At this point you can stash the slices and deal with the rest of this recipe another day. Hooray! Or keep going and hopefully you timed this out to be ready when you are hungry.
Day two for me involved thoughts along the lines of : why do I keep buying eggplant? Do I even really like eggplant? should I bother cooking this more or just pitch it….. ? This is pretty similar to what I go though every time I buy it. I shoved those unsure and queasy feelings down and tried to channel my inner italian nona. Here’s what I did:
I had some passata open, and a bunch of tomatoes on the counter. I diced up a tomato and added it and about a cup of passata to a bowl, picked about ten basil leaves and threw them in, added a splash of white wine, smashed a peeled garlic clove and bashed all that stuff up a little. Seasoned it with some salt and pepper and then simply layered that quick sauce and the eggplant in an oven proof dish (I used my cocotte. If you don’t have one any baking dish will suffice so long as the eggplant rounds can overlap a little bit and stay somewhat immersed in the sauce. I pressed a piece of parchment paper right on top of all that and put a lid on my cocotte. I baked the eggplant for one hour and a half at 300*F. It was perfect. It smelled amazing. It tasted magnificent. I immediately put on a pot of water to boil and cooked a package of gnocchi (they are ready when they float), tossed them with some oil and salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. I ate half the gnocchi and half the eggplant in the middle of the afternoon as a large pre-dinner snack. I very nearly ate it all. Wow. Awesome.
If you too are a little nervous about eggplant I strongly suggest you try this simple recipe. I think I would have made any italian nona proud. This would make a perfect light meal as is or simply add a salad and a grilled meat and you have an amazing dinner party menu (throwing that one your way Mom. I know you have a soiree coming up.) Tiramisu for dessert. Sch-bang. Done. Love you guys. Have a great night.