Eggplant is one of summer's most versatile gems.It can be turned into a variety of different dishes from fried to gracing a pasta sauce.It can be baked into a type of casserole or turned into a delicious spread. Anyway you cook them, eggplants are the tastiest veggie around.
David Tanis knows this and wrote about them in his A City Kitchen in yesterday's New York Times Food section.He uses Sicilian recipes because the eggplant is one of the basic ingredients in their cuisine.It came to the island from the Arab influence and has remained there since the Middle Ages. Two other staples , tomato and peppers , came in through the Spanish during the Columbian period and the three mesh together nicely.It's also part of the cucina povera or "poor cuisine" where simple ingredients and a pinch of this or a pinch of that is added. There are no fancy ingredients, just veggies from the garden, olive oil and herbs.Eggplant has always been considered cheap. Fried slices of it , coated in breadcrumbs were always known as "poor man's oysters." and this is a stand in for lamb chops in some Sicilian households. They're also great in salads, or pickled. Stuffed eggplant is a standard and it's usually filled with rice and ground beef.
Mr. Tanis gives three eggplant recipes that are perfect for a summery dinner. The first is pasta alla Norma, named for the famed opera by Vincenzo Bellini, He came from Cataniia where he ate this dish daily for lunch. It's simply mixing fried cubes of eggplant with penne pasta. The seasoning , again, is pure cucina povera, It's garlic , tomatoes and basil mixed with the cubes. Toasted bread crumbs and cheese are usually sprinkled on top. Another tasty dish is caponata, which from the island's Arabic period.It's stewed in oil, and sweetened with sugar. The savory kick comes from vinegar, capers , tomatoes and onions cooked into a type of sauce. The eggplant is then added and let set to allow all the flavors to meld.It should sit for at least an hour before serving.Baked eggplant parmagiana is another delicious way to cook or rather bake the veggie. The original recipe recommends layering it with tuma cheese, that highly aromatic cheese from Piedmonte but Mr.Tanis uses smoked mozzarella and fresh ricotta. Anchovies fillets are scattered on top, their saltiness bringing out the eggplant's sweetness.
Take advantage of eggplants this summer. Use them in a variety of different dishes, They're versatile and tasty, perfect with other summer harvests of tomatoes and peppers.