If you plan on growing eggplant in your garden this year, try these recipes with your harvest. Slice and grill your eggplant for something nontraditional off of the grill or wait until it’s cold outside and prepare this decadent Eggplant Parmesan, either way you will find the eggplant delicious.
The Myrtlewood Cookbook (Sasquatch Books, 2017) written by Andrew Barton and photographed by Peter Schweitzer, helps readers to discover new ways to prep vegetable bases dishes. Find savory recipes to bring to your table with the recipes Schweitzer provides. Learn new cooking techniques and preparation methods for meals.
Scalding, juicy, succulent eggplant; sweet, lip-smacking tomatoes; young mild garlic added to everything. The crunch of cucumbers and that green bean you eat raw, just to test it. The smell of freshly picked herbs on your hands as you move from slicing to dicing and back again, working through the abundance. The bursting berries, tart at first and progressively sweeter, then at last the dripping figs and first tart apples.
My college housemate Ethan, whose Secret Restaurant project in New York inspired my own, taught me how to do eggplant this way. It works as a side dish, a sandwich filling, a pizza topping, the basis for classic eggplant Parmesan, part of a curry or a stew—really, there is infinite variability. It is a true celebration of this underdog vegetable.
Slice the eggplant into 1/2 - to 1/4-inch medallions. Move them to a colander, sprinkle with salt, and leave them for about 20 minutes while the salt draws the moisture out. Move them to a casserole dish or roasting tin, pat dry with a clean towel, and dress with lots of olive oil. When some has been absorbed, splash the dish with balsamic vinegar. Leave alone for another 10 to 20 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat until a flick of water will instantly evaporate.
You need a good pair of tongs for this job. Pick up the pieces of eggplant and lay them gently on the hot grill. Leave them completely alone for about 2 minutes, then pick them up delicately to make sure they haven’t stuck. If any have stuck, use a regular flat metal spatula to scrape the underside and lift the piece up. Cook the other side for about half the time of the first side, keeping a watchful eye (and watchful tonged hand) on them the whole time. To encourage them to cook down, you can gently press the top with the spatula, and you’ll see the water hiss out and evaporate on all sides.
Place the finished pieces in a dish in a warm oven, like you might do for pan- cakes, until you’ve got a great hot pile of them to use however you like.
I love a well-prepared classic eggplant Parmesan, soaking in red sauce with bubbling cheese on top. I even love a mediocre one, kind of soggy and forgettable but warm and filling on a winter night.
The really, really good preparations have a moment where you bite through the crisp breading into the creamy umami-blast interior, even through the sauce. I came up with this version when I had a craving for the classic but only had thin eggplants from my home garden to use and a precious last cup of all-garden tomato sauce. I imagined making the eggplant with perfect, Parmesan-y crust, then cutting a piece and sliding it through that tomato sauce. Far from the “eggplant whatever” dishes listed at the bottom of meat-centric menus, this is a dish you really can luxuriate over, knife-and-forking succulent mouthfuls with delicious sauces.
Trim the tops of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise into halves. Score each half diagonally and deeply with a small, sharp knife. Sprinkle with salt and set in a colander in the sink to drain for 15 to 30 minutes. If you don’t have time for this, it’s okay, but it does help them absorb the olive oil in the right way.
Marinate the eggplant with plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a dash or two of balsamic vinegar. Toss to coat and set aside. A long Pyrex casserole dish is the perfect vessel for this. Half an hour should be plenty of time. Make that salad! Or the pesto!
Heat a cast-iron pan (or two, if you are cooking for lots of people) over medium-high heat. Glug in some olive oil, then add the eggplant pieces, cut sides down. After a minute or so, agitate to ensure that they don’t stick, but don’t flip them yet.
When the cut sides are turning golden, flip them over and cook on the skin sides. If the other sides are done enough, they should puff up here for a moment. Using a metal spatula, press the edges down to encourage this. They are growing tender on each side without getting mushy. The flesh should now start looking less opaque. Poke the pieces with gentle force—you’ll see the last of the moisture escaping and bursting into little steam clouds next to the eggplants. This will steam the eggplants through to done- ness. When they are just done, before they collapse further, remove them from the heat and return them to the dish where they marinated.
Arrange three flat dishes near the stove. Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmesan in one, beat the eggs in another, and spread the flour in the last. If the bread crumbs are from really good, naturally leavened sourdough bread, they will have so much flavor and don’t need further seasoning. If they aren’t, that’s okay—but maybe add some herbs, garlic, or chili powder. Semolina flour is nice too and can be mixed however you like with the plain flour, if you want to sneak in some other flavor.
Clean the cast-iron pan from the stove and ready to go again, setting it over medium heat with a thin layer of oil.
Make the pieces of eggplant Parmesan one at a time. First, roll each eggplant piece in flour. The oil on it from previous cooking should make the flour coat it properly. Then dip it in the egg. Then roll, dip, or set in/sprinkle with the bread crumb and Parmesan mixture. Dip in the egg mixture again. Repeat with the bread crumb and Parmesan mixture. This thick layer is what you want, but make sure it’s sticking reasonably well before you start throwing it in the pan. Do you need more egg mixture? Maybe. Fewer bread crumbs? Maybe. Get a sense of how it’s going, then gently set the piece of eggplant in the pan, cut side down. Repeat with one or two pieces, then check the first piece (using a pair of tongs). When a nice crust is forming and you can easily lift it, turn it over and cook the other side in the same way. Remove to a paper or clean kitchen towel to drain as you go.
After a minute or two, the eggplant pieces will do all the draining they are going to do and you should then transfer them to baking sheets or dishes set in a 250-degree-F oven. Let them hang out in there for at least 15 minutes (30 minutes if you have the time). In the oven they will dry up on the outside and grow more tender on the inside.
A few minutes before serving, top the pieces in the oven with the mozzarella. Let it start to melt, then broil it for 1 final minute before serving. Try them with a side of spaghetti, Candied Tomato Puttanesca, and Creamy Pesto Sauce, or any other favorites of yours. Eat the pieces of exquisite eggplant like a steak, one forkful at a time, dipped in sauce.
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