Eggplant Extravaganza


Eggplant sometimes gets a bad rap. Some people find it bitter, some think it is too labor intensive to prepare, and some just aren’t sure what to do with it! This post is here to dispel a lot of the myths associated with eggplant and to give you some ideas mull about. Look for ongoing eggplant posts in the next few weeks! I have converted many an eggplant hater with some of these preparations….

Did you know that eggplant flowers are beautiful? Just one more reason to love it.

Bellair’s eggplant

Here on the farm, we grow several types of eggplant. People often ask me about flavor differences between them and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t really taste any. I still find it great to use the different types in different ways because of how their shape can help ease kitchen prep time. For stirfrys and small slices, I use the skinny Asian eggplants and for baba ganoush, eggplant parm, or large “steaks,” I use the globe types. We are also growing a specialty green Thai variety in the pick-your-own this year!

We start harvesting eggplant in early July, and after a couple weeks of it being limited in the share, the plants start pumping and it’s unlimited eggplant for every CSA member until the frost. As a farmer, I’ve gotta love any crop that can do this, and I’ve got to try to get you to love it as well!

Maybe the most awesome thing about our eggplant besides its sheer productivity is that I’ve never hear anyone describe it as being bitter. I’m not sure whether it is the variety, freshness, or growing conditions, but it really is true: no bitterness! Not only does this make for a more pleasant eating experience, but it also means that bitterness-avoiding techniques like peeling or salting the eggplant is completely unnecessary. I’ve never done either of these steps and don’t plan on ever starting.

These Asian eggplants are abundant and great for stir-frys or “Charlotte’s Eggplant”

 

Eggplant cooking ideas:

First things first, if you are a true “hater,” go to one of our oldest blog posts and make “Charlotte’s Eggplant.” It is like sticky sweet takeout made right at home! If you want it to be more hands-off or are cooking for a larger group, you can dry-roast the eggplant slices in the oven at 450 instead of dry frying them in a pan.

Try noodle-less eggplant Lasagna

This was an easy dinner I made one night. I had some left over flat bread and a friend brought over some garlic bread. I was determined to use eggplant so I could write about it in this post. I was craving something cheesey and savory. We decided to omit noodles since we had a lot of bread going on.

I’m not really one for recipes or writing things down, but I will do my best to describe what I did. First, I thawed out some frozen tomato sauce that I made last year (I roasted them in the pizza oven first….yum!). Then I sliced up the eggplant into thick rounds and pre-roasted them in the oven. This gives you a bit more caramelized flavor and jump-starts the cooking.

Eggplant rounds, onions, and peppers ready to cook. Just look at that fresh garlic and how juicy it is!

While the eggplant are roasting in there, prep your other ingredients. I sauteed Bellair onions and peppers and cooked a LOT of garlic into my thawed sauce. I wanted some cheese but didn’t have any mozzarella or parm, so I went to the barn and bought some Twenty Paces ricotta and combined that with some cream cheese I had on hand. Weird, I know. But it tasted amazing and is proof you don’t need to run to the store if you’re missing what seems to be a crucial ingredient.

The cheese mixture. I also cut up some fresh tomato and stirred it into my sauce right before layering.

I heard once the secret to cooking like a chef is to season each component of the dish individually. To that end, I salted the roasted eggplant, salted and peppered the sauteed veggies, added garlic, salt and pepper to my sauce, and added a huge handful of fresh basil (plus salt and pepper of course) to the cheese mixture. The idea is if everything tastes amazing on its own, it will be incredible together.

When it already looks good before it even goes into the oven, you know you have a winner.

Once the eggplant comes out, layer your lasagna as you see fit. I put sauce on the bottom layer because I think it helps prevent sticking. After that, put the whole dish in the oven and cook at 375 until irresistibly bubbly. This took about 40 minutes for me. One last step I think guaranteed success was that I pressed it down with a spatula halfway through cooking. I heard about this from a friend cooking eggplant parm from a recipe in a very stern Italian cookbook. If you press and there is a lot of liquid, pour some off before you put it back in the oven. You want it thick and flavorful, not thin and watery.

Best served al fresco with a side of grilled radicchio!

Try out this method or improvise your own! What types of cheese substitutes can your dream of? Other additions/subtractions? Let me know!

 

And finally, for when you really don’t have time to deal with it:

EASY roasted eggplant; infinite ways

This is hands down the easiest way to prep eggplant. Use it as a side dish for almost anything. Change the toping to compliment the rest of your meal. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and slice up your eggplants. Spread the slices on baking sheets coated in oil and top with any of the following:

-Garlic infused olive oil (just cop the garlic and soak it in the oil for a few minutes before coating)

-Tahini

-Chutney (crewmember Lane made some amazing tamarind-chutney eggplant for crew lunch the other week)

-Pesto

Make sure you roast it until it is brown on the outside and soft on the inside, yum yum!

 

Any other eggplant inspiration or recipe requests? Let us know!

A baby eggplant growing on the farm. One of you has probably eaten this little guy by now!

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