Food and Drink

   

In Season: Eggplants

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For those unused to cooking with eggplant it can be somewhat of a challenge, and first attempts can be disappointing. Yet it is the most rewarding of vegetables when used to its best.

Some of the world’s most satisfying dishes: baba ghanoush, moussaka, ratatouille, caponata, imam biyaldi all have eggplant as the star. Eggplant’s ability to absorb sauces and flavours makers provides it with versatility for roasting, char grilling, frying, sautéing, stewing or baking.

Originally cultivated in India and Sri Lanka as long as 4000 years ago where it is today known as brinjal, eggplant eventually found its way to the Mediterranean and was used for centuries. As it is a member of the nightshade family its appearance in Northern Europe was initially met with suspicion. It’s this relationship with the potato family that’s the cause of the bitterness sometimes experienced, depending on the variety and how it is prepared – they can contain residual amounts of solanine, the toxin in green potatoes.

Fixing any slight bitterness is easy. After cutting, lightly salt your eggplant and leave it on a paper towel for 30 minutes. Rinse and dry thoroughly. They will now have been ‘degorged’, that is the liquid exuded during salting will have purged the bitter flavour (just as sweet is the opposite of sour, salt is the opposite of bitter).

When buying eggplants, look for those that are firm, with a shiny skin and without wrinkles or bruises. They should feel heavy for their size. Buy them on the day of use or keep for no longer than two – three days in the crisper. They are available in many different sizes and hues, one of the most common being the long thin variety sold as ‘Lebanese’ eggplant – great for stuffing and baking.

One of my favourite restaurant experiences was eating a dish of eggplant stuffed it with a mixture of chicken and miso at Akita in North Melbourne.

Here is a dish that’s very popular at our place based on a Sicilian recipe:

Baked Eggplant Rolls (enough for two hungry people)
2 eggplants
1 small onion (chopped finely)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 small tin of tomatoes
250g provolone (or mozzarella)
125g Parmesan (grated – preferably parmigiano reggiano)
2 tablespoons chopped parley
2 tablespoons shredded basil
125g pine nuts (toasted)
125g currants
Red wine vinegar (approx 1 teaspoon)
Olive oil

Method
Cut whole eggplant into slices (about 5mm thick), disgorge as described above, then brush liberally with olive oil and char-grill (or fry in hot oil). Set aside.

Gently sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until crooked but not coloured. Add the tomatoes and cook gently to a sauce.

Add enough vinegar to obtain a balanced sweet/sour effect. Add a dash of pepper, but be careful with salt as there may be some residual on the eggplant.

Cut the provolone into thin baton shapes, as long as the width of the eggplant slices.

Lay out the eggplant slices and place a piece of provolone on each one, scatter with pine nuts and currants. Scatter the herbs over.

Roll up each slice and lay in an oiled baking dish, just large enough to hold them all tightly packed. Cover with your sauce, scatter with grated parmesan and bake in a moderate oven until they are bubbly and golden.

Serve with a salad of mixed greens. Enjoy!

Photos by Leila Koren.


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