Elegant eggplants don’t need to be fried

Published 2:45am Saturday, September 28, 2013

I seem to do an article on eggplant about this time every year (It’s in season in the garden and in the markets), but I am always looking for different ways to use it. People who extol eggplant claim there’re a thousand ways to cook them. It is amenable to many cooking techniques, which is good news since it should never be eaten raw.

I was at Cochon in New Orleans a few weeks ago, and there was a charred eggplant on the menu with a tomato sauce, which looked intriguing. My son ordered it, and of course, I had a taste, and it was excellent. Seeing some small globe eggplants in the farmer’s market the following weekend, I decided this was the time to grill some small eggplant and make a tomato sauce.

One must remember that an eggplant is really an oversized berry. Like tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco, it is in the nightshade family. It has been grown in the South since the eighteenth century, but most colonists used eggplant only as a garden ornament, because they believed that nightshades caused madness. Some of the earliest specimens were small, oval, and white, just like a hen’s egg, so the name was fitting and came to be used for all varieties.

 

CHARRED EGGPLANT WITH TOMATO SAUCE

(My version)

Note: Charred eggplant on a grill gives it a smoky flavor and makes the pulp very silky. You can roast the eggplant in the oven on a baking sheet in a 400 degrees oven, but it will not have the same smoky allure.

6 small globe eggplants

Preheat a grill to high temperature. Prick the eggplant several times with a fork to let the steam escape as it cooks. Grill the eggplant, turning with tongs as needed, until the skin blackens and the inside collapses and softens, about 15 minutes. Set aside and make the tomato sauce.

TOMATO SAUCE

2 tbsp. olive oil

One 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes

½ small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup basil (stir in at the end of cooking)

In a 4 quart saucepan put the olive oil and heat then add the rest of the ingredients (except basil) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the basil near the end. Put all in a food processor and process until smooth. You can refrigerate for several days or freeze. This is very good on pasta and anywhere a good tomato sauce is needed.

Place 2 grilled eggplant on a plate and surround with some of the tomato sauce. Yummy!

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I also found a recipe for eggplant pie in the cookbook, A Love Affair with Southern Cooking, by Jean Anderson. I had never heard of this, but it is a pie that many southern children grew up eating. Perhaps some of you know of this pie. I will give it a try.

EGGPLANT PIE

Serves 6-8

4 large eggplant (about 4 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium-large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon onion salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 slices firm-textured whole-wheat bread, toasted and torn into small pieces

2 large eggs well beaten with

¼ cup evaporated milk and

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4 cups coarsely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)

Spread the eggplant chunks one layer deep on four large rimmed baking sheets. Sprinkle each pan of eggplant with 1 ½ teaspoons of the salt, toss well, spread again, and let stand for 30 minutes (this is to rid the eggplant of most of its liquid).

Take the eggplant up by handfuls, squeeze out as much liquid as possible, drop into a colander, and rinse very well under cool running water; you’ll have to do this in small batches. Squeeze dry again, then spread on several thicknesses of paper toweling. When all of the eggplant has been spread on paper toweling, cover with more paper toweling and press down hard to extract as much remaining moisture as possible.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13x9x2-inch heatproof baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter in a broad-bottomed Dutch oven over moderately high heat, add the onion, and sauté, stirring often, for five to seven minutes until lightly browned. Add the eggplant and sauté stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until touched with brown.

Mix in the celery salt, onion salt, and pepper, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft. If there is excess liquid in the pot, raise the heat to high and boil uncovered for one to two minutes, stirring often.

Set off the heat and mix in the toast, egg mixture, and half of the cheese. Scoop into the prepared pan, spreading to the edge, and scatter the remaining cheese evenly on top.

Bake uncovered on the middle oven shelf for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and brown. Let the eggplant pie stand 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Serve as an accompaniment to baked ham or roast lamb, beef, turkey or chicken.

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