Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Eggplant

Dancer Eggplant
August is upon us and that means it’s that time of year already-eggplant season! A member of the nightshade family, eggplant was once considered poisonous when introduced in Europe. Thankfully, those perceptions have changed and we now recognize eggplant for the culinary gem that it is. The eggplant varieties we grow are particularly delicious and have firm flesh that holds its firmness after both picking and cooking. Growing eggplant can be challenging, so we plant our eggplant in double rows on reflective mulch to combat the Colorado Potato Beetle and the flea beetle. The reflection from the silver plastic disorients the pests and deters them from the plant.
Lilac Bride Eggplant
Eggplant contains fiber, potassium, Vitamins B1 and B6, folate and magnesium. By itself, it is very low in calories. Eggplant should always be cooked, thus giving it a soft, creamy, silky texture and a mild taste. While many culinary sources will warn you to salt eggplant in advance to take away its bitterness, this step isn’t necessary with the varieties we grow. Old varieties do have some bitterness in the seeds and flesh, but newer varieties have been developed and do not have this trait.   Eggplant is thought to have originated in India & China, but has since been spread around the world. You will find a wide variety of ways to utilize eggplant from Indian dishes to curries, glazed with miso or fried & topped with marinara.
When it comes to cooking eggplant, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy it! Eggplant is wonderful when it’s grilled, braised, baked or cooked and pureed into a dip. In your box this week, you will find either Lilac Bride, Listada, Black or Purple Dancer varieties. Our Lilac Bride eggplant is perfect for slicing and including in a stir-fry. Listada is an Italian heirloom variety that can be used for grilling, roasting or stewing. Of course there is also the traditional Black Globe eggplant that shines in traditional recipes such as baba ganoush, eggplant Parmesan and moussaka.  Purple Dancer is one of our favorite varieties because it produces very well, has a creamy white flavorful flesh and is an “all-purpose” type of eggplant.
Listada Eggplant
Its flesh is very good at soaking up whatever you pair it with, like cream, olive oil or marinara sauce in your Eggplant Parmesan. Check out the delicious recipes featured in this newsletter for more ideas. Store your eggplant on your counter at room temperature and use within a few days. Eggplant is very susceptible to chill injury and should never be stored in the refrigerator.

Black Eggplant

Sweet & Sour Eggplant Salad
“Eggplant takes on a soft, almost melting, texture when cooked slowly in a pan.  Though I usually don’t peel eggplant, I do here just to emphasize that silky quality.  Spoon this piquant salad onto crackers or bread, and serve it with good cheese and a bowl of olives.”
—Domenica Marchetti, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy
Serves 8-10
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced paper-thin
2 medium eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
½ to 1 tsp salt
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp minced fresh herbs (mix of basil, mint, oregano or other as available)
Crostini or Sliced bread, for serving
Pecorino Romano Cheese (or other hard cheese variety), for serving

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 7 to 8 minutes or until the garlic is soft and translucent but not browned.  Add the eggplant and ½ tsp salt and stir well to coat the eggplant with the oil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the eggplant is just tender and cooked through, but not mushy.
  2. Spoon the eggplant, along with the garlic slices and any juices, into a bowl.  Sprinkle in the vinegar and herbs and toss gently to combine.  Taste and add more salt if you like.  Cover and let the eggplant sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before serving.
  3. Serve the eggplant salad on top of the crostini and top with shavings of the cheese.

Eggplant Fritters
Recipe borrowed from Mark Bittman’s book, The Best Recipes in the World.

Serves 6
1 ½ pounds eggplant
1 egg
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled
Pinch of cayenne pepper
½ cup bread crumbs, or flour
Corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving

  1. Trim and peel the eggplant and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  
  2. Set a large pot of water to boil.  Blanch the eggplant in the boiling water for about 5 minutes or until soft.  Drain in a colander, pressing to get rid of as much moisture as possible.  
  3. Combine the eggplant in a food processor with the egg, parsley, Parmesan, garlic and cayenne and process until smooth. Pulse in enough bread crumbs or flour to make a batter that will hold together.
  4. Put enough oil in a large nonstick skillet to coat the bottom to a depth of about ¼ inch.  Turn the heat to medium-high and wait until the oil is hot;  when it’s ready, a pinch of flour will sizzle.  Carefully drop the batter from a spoon, as you would pancake batter, and cook until nicely browned on both sides.  Do not crowd the fritters, and adjust the heat as necessary so they brown without burning.  Total cooking time per pancake will be about 6 minutes.  Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges.

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