Three Dishes To Celebrate Eggplant

A fussy, underrated vegetable delivers big

Are you excited about eggplant? If not, you should be. It’s among the most delicious vegetables and one of our favorites of late summer — yet a lot of home cooks can be put off by it, having once or twice ended up with an undersalted, undercooked, unimpressive dish.

Consider trying eggplant again, now. Go out of your way to find them at your local farmers markets. Get smalls ones and consider the heirlooms: Black Beauties, Rosa Bianca, Fairy Tale, and more. And commit to eggplant to dinner, showing them off using one or more of these recipes.


Eggplant Meatballs

Makes: 4 servings
Time: About an hour, largely unattended

Vegetable meatballs are certainly not the same as meat meatballs, but the different textures and flavors are terrific. To round out the meal, serve these over pasta, rice, salad, or steamed greens with a squeeze of lemon.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into cubes no larger than 1 inch

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon pepper

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 cup cooked or canned white beans

  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

  • Pinch red chile flakes (optional)

  • 2 cups any tomato sauce (like this one)

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon olive oil to grease a large rimmed baking sheet. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the eggplant and ¼ cup water. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces shrivel a bit and are tender and beginning to color, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to the bowl of a food processor.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan along with the onion and garlic and return to the heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until they’re soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the beans; if using canned, rinse them before draining. Add the beans and parsley to the work bowl with the eggplant and pulse until well combined and chopped, but not pureed.

3. Toss the eggplant mixture with the onion and garlic, then add the breadcrumbs and red chile flakes if you’re using them. taste and adjust the seasoning. Roll the mixture into 12 balls about 2 inches in diameter; transfer them to the prepared pan. Bake, undisturbed, until they’re firm and well browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, warm the tomato sauce. Serve the “meatballs” hot or at room temperature along with the tomato sauce.

— Recipe from The VB6 Cookbook

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Eggplant Parmesan With Grill-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 40 to 50 minutes

This recipe is so easy and fast you’ll never go back to breading and frying. The sauce is nothing more than chopped grill-roasted cherry tomatoes — all the seasoning they need is a little salt to heighten their natural flavor, concentrated as they gently hiss over a hot fire.

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 eggplants, ¾ to 1 pound each

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  • Salt and pepper

  • 6 cups cherry or grape tomatoes

  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

  • About 1 cup fresh basil leaves

  • 8 ounces thinly sliced mozzarella

Instructions

1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium-high direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.

2. Peel the eggplant if you like, and cut each lengthwise into 4 slices no more than ¾ inch thick each. Whisk 4 tablespoons of the oil and the vinegar together with some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Brush the eggplant slices with the oil mixture on both sides. Put them on a baking sheet until you’re ready to grill them.

3. Toss the tomatoes with the remaining tablespoon of oil and either skewer them or put them in a perforated grill pan and spread them into a single layer.

4. Put the tomatoes on the grill, directly over the fire. Close the lid and cook, turning the skewers or shaking the pan several times, until they start to look wrinkled and get charred in places, 5 to 8 minutes total. Don’t let them cook too long; they should be saucy when you cut them up. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl.

5. Put the eggplant on the grill directly over the fire. Close the lid and cook until the slices are browned and tender, 5 to 8 minutes per side.

6. While the eggplant is cooking, chop the tomatoes by hand on a cutting board or in the bowl with an immersion blender, leaving the sauce somewhat chunky. If you chopped by hand, transfer the tomatoes and any juices back to the bowl. Sprinkle the sauce with salt and pepper; taste and adjust the seasoning.

7. As the eggplant is ready, transfer the slices to a platter. Top each slice with 2 tablespoons parmesan, a layer of basil leaves, and a layer of mozzarella. Return the slices to direct heat, close the lid, and cook until the mozzarella melts, 4 to 5 minutes. Return the eggplant to the platter. Reheat the tomato sauce if you like, top the eggplant with the sauce, and serve.

— Recipe from How to Grill Everything

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Oven-Baked Ratatouille

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 1 1/2 hours, largely unattended

The French classic stew is simple, no matter where you cook it. Combine vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, and soften them on the stove or in the oven. That’s it. Longish, slow cooking and lots of good olive oil are important.

Have a robust serving with bread for a light repast or roast a chicken, grill a skirt steak, or pan-sear a piece of fish and it’s a hearty meal. Perhaps the best option this time of year is to make this as one of a trio of veg dishes for dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds eggplant (preferably small), sliced 1/2-inch thick, and salted if time allows

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for garnish

  • 2 large onions, sliced

  • 1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut into large chunks

  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and sliced

  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped, or 2 large tomatoes, (drained canned are fine)

  • Fresh herbs like thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, parsley, and or chervil plus more for garnish

  • Salt and pepper

  • 5 cloves garlic, halved

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. If you salted the eggplant, squeeze out excess liquid, then rinse and dry.

2. Film a baking dish or large ovenproof skillet with a couple of tablespoons of oil. Make a layer of onion, followed by layers of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and the garlic (the order doesn’t matter at all). Repeat. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.

3. Bake, pressing down on the vegetables occasionally with a spatula, until they are all completely tender, about 1 hour. Garnish with more herbs, drizzle with a little more oil, and serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

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