I am forever amazed by the number of people who claim to dislike eggplant. When pressed for a reason, most do not reply in a way that I find satisfactory, so I push: “When was the last time you had it? How was it prepared?”
After hems and haws and vague guesses at remembering a date, I finally conclude that they’ve never even tried it. Either that or their Great Aunt Nenica Penica boiled it until it was mush, added no seasoning whatsoever, and served it to them when they were wee children.
I will give you this: eggplant is not a vegetable that most of us grew up eating with any regularity, unless of course you are of Mediterranean or Asian descent. Then you certainly understand the glory of the aubergine. This magnificent fruit, once referred to as the “mad apple” upon its discovery in Europe, was thought to have its origins in India, pre-dating written history. By the fifth century it popped up in Chinese record, by the eighth, the Moors were savoring it and, by the thirteenth, the Arabs possessed it’s’ glory. Two hundred years later it was discovered by the Greeks and Romans. It tore through Northern and Eastern Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; however, not until the early 1900’s did it show up with any regularity in American cuisine (even though Thomas Jefferson is oft credited with bringing it to our soil many decades earlier.) So, perhaps I can understand how we as a country may still fear its bounty. After all, we have only seriously been experimenting with it for a hundred years; a trifling amount of time in the history of man.
Yet I feel compelled to remind my fellow countrymen, we are Americans! We are adventurers! Our very roots lie in the soil of other lands where they have appreciated and valued the culinary contribution of the eggplant for centuries. Let us tap into our cell memory and rediscover why our forefathers brought this gorgeous, plump, deep purple prize to the New World. They must have known something that we don’t.
Eggplant season is from July-October and like all other produce, best used when in season. I can give you is Ratatouille, which is a mélange of the celebrated aubergine, squash, zucchini, red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes, black olives, garlic, and assorted spices married together and bound by the wondrously flavorful olive oil. Once you make the basic recipe, you can serve it in a myriad of ways that will only make you love it more and more. I have served many a guest Ratatouille and at first vaguely describe it as vegetable dip. Not until they express their glowing praise, do I confess that it is in fact…eggplant. Ratatouille is the perfect dip (served cold or room temperature) accompanied with crackers, slices of crusty bread, or even corn chips. It can also be served hot and tossed with pasta. Garnish this dish with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For late summer when you are still religiously grilling fish outdoors, consider paring it with a salmon steak or halibut fillet. As an appetizer I like to pack about ¾ of a cup into individual ring molds and top it with baked goat cheese rounds (served warm or at room temperature.) I even use it as the filling for a Mediterranean omelet with a sup son of grated parmesan. Now I ask you, is their any reason left that you shouldn’t join history and embrace the scrumptious eggplant for yourself?
And added bonus for us is that ALL of the veggies and herbs sans the olives are grown in our own garden or purchased at a neighboring farm.
Whitney’s Rockin’ Ratatouille
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4-pound eggplant, cut into ½” pieces (about 3 cups)
- 1 small zucchini, scrubbed, chopped into ½” pieces
- 1 small yellow zucchini squash, scrubbed, chopped into ½” pieces
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- ¾ cup halved, black olives
- 3/4 pound small ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderately low heat, add garlic, onion, and stir until onion becomes translucent.
2. Bump up the heat to med.-high and pour in the remaining olive oil. Add the eggplant and continue to cook for 7-8 minutes until soft.
3. Add zucchini, squash, the bell pepper, and olives stirring occasionally, for about 12 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
5. Add oregano, thyme, and coriander. Salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking for 1 minute. Stir in the basil. The ratatouille may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated before serving or allowed to come to room temperature, depending on your preparation.
6. Sprinkle with cheese right before serving.