Am I going to lose you if I start talking about eggplant? Or eggplant ratatouille? People have strong feelings about the sometimes purple vegetable that’s technically a fruit. They say it’s bitter or spongy and has a goofy name. Here’s a few things to remember about eggplant.
What to Remember about Eggplant
1. Most of the newer varieties have had the bitterness bred out of them, so the pre-salting is not as necessary. (Still, I do it out of habit and so does NYT food guru Mark Bittman.)
2. In France, Germany, Canada and Britain, eggplant goes by a far more sophisticated name: aubergine. (Clever decorators and clothing designers use the term to describe their deep berry shades.)
3. Eggplant loves olive oil, dislikes the fridge, and should be eaten cooked.
4. The ideal texture for eggplant when served is buttery and creamy.
I’m betting you like eggplant in some form or another. Who can resist the classic Eggplant Parmigiana or, for that matter, any vegetable slaked in cheese and tomato sauce? Baba ghanouj based on eggplant and a paste of ground sesame seeds, called tahini, makes a wonderful dip and a good introduction to the new taste. See Dorie Greenspan for a quicky version that has only 5 ingredients.
But let’s move up a notch on the eggplant scale to Ratatouille. The dish, pronounced: rat-ə–TOO-ee, originated in the area around present day Provence and Nice. It’s usually served as a side, but it works with pasta, rice or bread for a meal.
Ratatouille enthusiasts, (like pizza devotees), believe the dish can be eaten anytime: breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s loaded with vegetables. You could write a doctoral thesis on the many “proper” ways of achieving a ratatouille. Julia Child insisted that every vegetable be cooked separately before they “partake of a brief communal simmer.” (I love her metaphor, if not her methodology.)
Posted below is Mark Bittman’s take on the summer stew; it’s my favorite. Unlike many ratatouille recipes, this one doesn’t take all afternoon. Best success requires vine ripe ingredients bathed in a good olive oil. Ahh…the joys of summer!
Easy Eggplant Ratatouille
Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)
- 1 large or 2 medium eggplants (try the Japanese variety)
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 medium tomatoes (or 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained), roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley or basil leaves, for garnish.
- Trim the eggplant and cut it into 1-inch cubes. If the eggplant is large, soft or especially seedy, sprinkle the cubes with salt, put in a colander and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Rinse, drain and pat dry.
- Put the oil in large skillet and turn heat to medium. Add the eggplant, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and keep cooking until the tomatoes begin to break down, another few minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, garnish with the herb, and serve immediately, at room temperature, or chilled.