The Ever Versatile Aubergine

Eggplant, tomatoes, feta, and mint

Mom prepared a plate of pickled eggplant or berenjena a la vinagreta with her signature enthusiasm. She simmered the aubergine with a laurel leaf, a pinch of allspice, onion, garlic, and a bouillon cube. After it cooled, she dressed it in a vinaigrette spiked with Worcestershire sauce and oregano, storing it in the refrigerator in a round clear pyrex. My sister loved piling on the silky tangy stuff over crispy saltines, which she snacked on with pure abandon at any time of the day. I, on the other hand, had quite a different relationship to the pickled spread and was far from being a fan.

It’s been surprising to see how all of a sudden this summer, it’s the one vegetable I can’t live without. I’ve sliced and roasted it, layering it with tomatoes and sharp cheese like the Italians do with their melanzane. I’ve diced and tossed it over a high flame with snap peas and ginger to create a hearty and flavorful stir-fry.

So go – peruse your farmers’ markets this week before the weather starts to turn. Choose the eggplant with the most dazzling purple you can find, and set aside any preconceptions you may have had of this easygoing vegetable.

To get you started, here’s a tried and true recipe that I love:

Eggplant and Tomato Gratin (adapted from Fine Cooking via Chelsea CSA)

1 big eggplant (@ 2 lbs.)

olive oil

salt

black pepper

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 can whole tomatoes, drained and sliced

chopped fresh mint

1 cup crumbled feta

1/3 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives

1/3 cup breadcrumbs mixed with 1 tsp. olive oil and 1/3 cup chopped toasted pine nuts

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Slice eggplant crosswise into 1/2″ slices.  Grease baking sheet with olive oil. Place eggplant on baking sheet, drizzle some olive oil, and season some salt. Roast until eggplant is slightly golden, about 25 minutes.

Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a medium skillet. Add onions and stir frequently until soft and golden. Add garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes. Spread onions and garlic evenly on a shallow gratin dish.

Sprinkle 1 tbs. mint over the onions. Place tomato slices on the onions, sprinkle mint and feta. Lay row of eggplant slices (they can overlap). Sprinkle mint and feta. Repeat with alternating layers of tomato and eggplant, seasoning each with mint and feta. Place olives randomly throughout.

When dish is full, and mint and feta are used up, season lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and cover with breadcrumb and pine nut mix.

Cook at 375 until well-browned and bubbly, about 60-70 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Serve with pasta or toasted country bread and a green salad. ¡Buen provecho!

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