Friday, July 02, 2010
Farmers' Market Eggplant
I am off work every other Saturday, and most of them, in the summer, you can find me wandering around the Agri-Center Farmers’ Market looking for treats to cook for my friends.
One of the vendors almost always has the most adorable little eggplants, both the traditional black, and ones with a creamy white skin. Each is the perfect size for an individual serving. I had to have them.
When I was growing up, the only way my mom ever made eggplant was to dip slices in an egg wash, then in cornmeal, and fry it in vegetable oil, or even better, bacon fat. (We cooked a lot of things in bacon fat back then; I’m really truly sorry that now we know how bad it is for us!) Although I liked it well enough, it wasn’t something I would have gone out of my way for.
Then, when I spent several summers in the South of France, I tasted many new ways of preparing it and loved them all. Most involved tomatoes and of course, garlic. Ratatouille, a braised medley of eggplant, zucchini, green bell peppers, onion, and tomato became a staple in my summer kitchen when I got home.
So what to do with these cute little ones? Taking a little inspiration both from the French and from my childhood, I minced up herbs, garlic and really good applewood smoked bacon, slathered it over the top and baked it on a bed of tomatoes.
It was delicious. I set each serving on a bed of pasta, made a salad with a good balsamic vinaigrette, and dinner was done.
Any leftover eggplant can be chopped, combined with the remaining tomatoes and saved for a pasta topping another day, or folded into an omelet. I think it would also make a great filling for a quiche.
If you don’t want to head out to the Farmers’ Market, you can use the slim oriental eggplants, or split one large eggplant and then divide into servings after baking. You’ll need to add about 15 minutes to the baking time if you do one big one.
I have fresh herbs growing right outside my back door and used both basil and oregano. If you have to buy fresh herbs at the grocery, you can stick with just oregano if you don’t want to spring for both, and the results will still be well appreciated by your friends.
FARMERS’ MARKET EGGPLANT
3 small eggplants, about 6" long
6 slices good quality smoked bacon, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil, packed
2 tbsp fresh oregano, packed
1 tsp salt, preferably kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp good fruity olive oil
4 large red ripe tomatoes (or 2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes)
2 tbsp olive oil to grease the baking dish
Preheat the oven to 350. Wash the eggplants and cut in half from stem to blossom end, leaving the stems on. Score about 1/2" deep without cutting through the skin at the edges.
In a food processor, combine the bacon, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pulse to blend well, but don’t puree completely. Or place all the filling ingredients on a chopping board and chop very finely by hand, then scrape into a bowl and mix in the olive oil. Divide this mixture among the eggplants, spreading it thinly on each all the way to the edges, pushing some down into the scored areas.
Wash the tomatoes, core them and diced them coarsely. Work over a bowl to save all the juices that drip out while cutting.
Use the remaining olive oil to grease a 9- by 13-inch casserole. Cover the bottom with the tomatoes. If using fresh tomatoes, sprinkle lightly with salt. Place the eggplants on top. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft. Remove the foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the bacon topping is well browned and crisp looking. Serve the eggplants on a bed of pasta and drizzle the tomatoes from the bottom of the pan over it all. Serves 6.