And who can resist a plant that comes with trivia?
Saving the best for last:
(1) While the ones at the market are, of course, local, eggplants immigrated from places like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
(2) Eggplant, like its cousin the tomato, is technically a berry. (I can just see eggplant alamode on the next episode of Chopped.)
(3) The tiny seeds running through the flesh, which are slightly and pleasantly bitter, contain trace amounts of nicotine. (Tobacco is a distant relative.)
The below gluten-free version of a pasta standby uses both tomato and eggplant. The saltiness of the tapenade balances out the sweetness of the berry vegetables. (Forgo adding extra salt to your tomato sauce.) But if you are feeling less adventurous or are craving a more classic pairing, replace the tapenade with herbed ricotta.
2 medium or one large, preferably narrow, eggplant, peeled
1 packed cup pitted kalamata olives
4-6 Tbs fresh parsley
1 small can anchovies with capers (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 red jalapeño pepper, minced
grated parmesan cheese (garnish)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice peeled eggplant in ¼ inch thick rounds and lightly salt. Set aside to “sweat” 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine olives, parsley, anchovies and pepper to make tapenade filling. Grind into a paste.
Coat a jelly roll pan or well-lipped cookie sheet with 1/8th inch of oil. Pair eggplant slices according to equal sizes. Lay one half of each pair flat on the pan. Spread tapenade “filling” on top. Place matching eggplant slice over tapenade, pressing firmly down. Bake for twenty minutes, flipping with a spatula halfway through.
In a small pot, simmer tomato sauce with garlic and red pepper about twenty minutes. When eggplant “ravioli” are done, use spatula to arrange on plates. Top with spoonfuls of tomato sauce and grated parmesan.
photo by Isabel Poulin