Peggy Lampman's Wednesday dinnerFeed: Baked Eggplant Slices with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella
Peggy Lampman | Contributor
But cooking with them - that's another issue. Especially for those of us who don't want to consume a gallon of olive oil. I realize olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and wonderful "heart smart" properties, but a calorie is still a calorie. Most eggplant lovers know, only too well, that eggplants are heavy drinkers - of oil, that is. I conducted a bit of very unofficial Googling research to see why this was so.
The blog www.arabist.net/eggplant says, "According to Marie-Christine Daunay, who is in charge of eggplant studies at the French agronomic research institute INRA, eggplant is somewhat of a mystery even to those who work with it daily. But at least we know a little about its propensity to drink. It is due partly to the spongy texture, of course, but Daunay tells me that the eggplant also contains compounds called saponins 'that have a natural affinity for lipids.' They love fat, in other words, and work as hard as they can to soak up as much of it as possible.”
I've been under the impression that salting eggplant prior to cooking lessens the eggplant's oil absorption as well as minimizes any bitter flavors. I haven't conducted any testing to confirm this hypothesis, but from my experiences, the long thin Asian varieties are not bitter and cook very quickly, thus require less oil. I generally salt the larger globe eggplant because I like the flavor, the salt mitigates any bitterness, and the slices seem to absorb less oil. If sodium is a concern, I wouldn't salt.
Grilling eggplant slices is another way to minimize oil input. I simply brush oil on the eggplant slices as they grill and when they are tender, they are delicious and not so oil saturated. In this recipe, I cook them quickly and then let them finish cooking in the tomato sauce.
And about that basil: my garden basil is obviously on the way out. Witness the blackening on the outer edges! I'll harvest whatever remains outside tomorrow. Last winter fresh pots of basil plants were available for just a few bucks throughout the winter at Meijer.
Yield: 4 side dishes (2 main servings with a side of pasta)
Time: 40 minutes
Cost: approx. $12.00
1 medium-sized globe eggplant (approx. 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional if desired
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/4 pounds (6 large) fresh plum tomatoes, cored, halved and cut into 1/4-inch dices*
8 ounce fresh mozzarella ball, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano
1/2 cup torn fresh basil
*or one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, San Marzano preferred
1. With a vegetable peeler, make stripes in eggplant then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Lay on towel-lined pan or colander, sprinkle with kosher salt and let drain 30-45 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 425Ëš.
3. In a large sautÃ© pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium to low heat. Add garlic, tomatoes, and a pinch of kosher salt, and simmer 15-20 minutes until tomatoes have collapsed and sauce has thickened. Remove from heat. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
4. While sauce is simmering, dry eggplant and heat remaining oil to medium-high heat. SautÃ© eggplant 1-2 minutes on each side or until slightly limp and just beginning to brown, adding additional oil the pan becomes dry. (Do not overcook; eggplant will have additional baking time in oven.) Remove and drain on paper towels.
5. Spray a shallow (approx. 6 inch X 10 inch) oven-proof dish with cooking oil spray. Spoon and spread 2 tablespoons tomato sauce on bottom of dish. Evenly spread eggplant slices on top of sauce, they may overlap slightly to fit. Spoon remaining sauce evenly over eggplant slices. Sprinkle Parmesan over eggplant and divide and place mozzarella slices on top of eggplant.
6. Bake on center rack of oven until cheese has just melted, approx.15 minutes. Garnish with basil and serve.