It's the season of overflowing market bags, heavy CSA boxes, and gardens run amok. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks is showing us how to store, prep, and make the most of the bounty, without wasting a scrap.
Is there a vegetable more polarizing than eggplant? More capable of inciting disputes over its preparation? More likely to cause adults and children alike to scrunch their faces in disgust?
Never have I heard or read more contradictory commands about how something should be treated. NEVER salt. ALWAYS salt. NEVER fry. ALWAYS fry. NEVER peel. ALWAYS peel.
Because eggplant can be anything from bitter and greasy to meaty and rich, people seem to either hate or love this late-summer vegetable (actually a fruit, a member of the controversial nightshade family). And while I have no doubt that some people genuinely dislike eggplant, I fear that others may have written it off years ago when they were, say, eight, or maybe after a bad experience with oil-laden eggplant parm, and they haven't given it a chance since. And this is a shame, because how eggplant tastes is directly related to how it is prepared, and when it is treated properly, it tastes sweet and mild and not a bit bitter or oily.
Certain preparations, in fact, need little or no oil at all. When roasted or charred, for instance, an eggplant's skin will blacken, leaving its flesh creamy and scoopable, a near-purée ready to be mixed with minced garlic, a splash of vinegar, and lots of chopped herbs. When sliced into rounds or halved and grilled, the meat softens and assumes a smokiness, a perfect base for a smear of tangy miso sauce or a drizzle of salsa verde. And when thinly sliced and layered into a gratin with tomatoes and onions, it melts into silky, fork-tender rounds.
More: Learn how to make your own salsa verde here.
It's when oil is introduced to the preparations that the trouble begins. Eggplant is a sponge and, given the opportunity, will soak up any oil in reach, which is why sautéing and deep-frying can leave it tasting heavy and greasy. Salting leaches out moisture and condenses the flesh, reducing its tendency to absorb and helping it stay crisp and light. This, I learned from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, is an important step toward making a good eggplant Parmesan. But the real key to achieving eggplant Parmesan success is skipping the stovetop, frying-in-batches method altogether. America's Test Kitchen's method calls for baking the breaded eggplant on two preheated baking sheets, a step that not only saves time but also produces eggplant with superior taste and texture, emerging from the oven evenly golden without a hint of greasiness.
These light, crisp rounds are irresistible, which will tempt you to stop right there, pile them onto a platter, sprinkle them with basil, pass some sauce on the side, and call your efforts done. But pushing on with this labor of love has a reward, too: a bubbling, comforting casserole layered with late-summer flavors that just might unite eggplant haters and evangelists alike around your table.
To store your eggplant:
To prep your eggplant:
To cook your eggplant:
Tell us: What's your favorite way to cook eggplant?
Serves 8 to 10
globe eggplants, about 2 pounds total, sliced into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick rounds
1 cup flour
4 cups dried breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, or panko would be fine
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade
8 ounces mozzarella, grated, to yield 2 cups
Fresh basil, optional
Photos by Alexandra Stafford
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now