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August 26, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - Eggplant

One of the more eye-catching vegetables you'll see in the market is the eggplant.  These days, local farmers have moved far past the elongated deep purple standard varieties, and they are bringing out an amazing assortment of shapes and colors that are sure to delight you.  And as Chef Jerry Pelligrino of Waterfront Kitchen notes, a backyard chef couldn't help but feel inspired by all these different varieties.

A few notes on eggplant:  the classic big purple variety can be tough and bitter and not much fun to eat.  To better your chances with that variety, pick a "male" eggplant, easily detectable by its more pointy shape.  The broad bottomed ones are female, with bigger more bitter seeds.   Avoid any eggplant with a lot of brown spots, which appear after the eggplant starts to go bad.  When you bring an eggplant home, use it within a couple days.  Do not refrigerate them, or else they will toughen and get those brown spots.

According to Cindy Yingling on Glenville Hollow Farms, each variety does have its own variation on the standard eggplant texture, with slight variations in the flavor.  Some of the most intriguing are:

Oriental:  long, medium sized, neon purple, soft texture
Purple Rain:  full sized, purple and white streaks
Zhaka:  oval, purple, baseball sized
Twinkle:  oval medium sized, purple and white streaks
Beatrice:  neon softball shape and size, very creamy texture, good for baba ghanoush
Neon:  classic shape, half size, bright neon purple
Italian:  (Hansel), small elongated deep purple, almost black
Fairy Tale:  tiny fingerling sized, streaked
Ivory:  it looks like an oversized cue ball
Ophelia:  black, oval, baseball sized

Here are a few recipe ideas for eggplant.

                  Eggplant with Peppers and Feta Cheese
                   (From Emeril Lagasse's "Emeril at the Grill")

One large eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/3" rounds
1 each:  yellow, red, orange, green bell peppers, cored, seeded, sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbs herbes de Provence
1/4 high quality olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice

1.  Set the eggplant rounds on a rack, salt them, and allow them to "sweat" for about 30 minutes.  Pat dry with a paper towel.

2.  Place the eggplant and peppers in a bowel, and toss with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place the slices on a medium hot grill, turning them occasionally to promote even doneness.   Cook for about 20 minutes.

3.  Transfer the grilled vegetables to a large platter and garnish with crumbled feta cheese, lemon juice and olive oil.   Sprinkle with herbes de Provence and serve.

                         Couscous Stuffed Eggplant
                        (A Martha Stewart online recipe)

1 medium head of garlic, tops sliced off
4 small, round eggplants (like Zhaka, Twinkle or Beatrice)
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 yellow or red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into a fine dice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 cup uncooked couscous
1 tbs grated lemon zest
1/4 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 pound red and yellow cheery tomatoes, cut into quarters

1.  Wrap the garlic clove in tinfoil, and cook in a 400 degree oven until the cloves are very soft.  Set aside to cool, then squeeze the soft garlic from the head and set aside.

2.  Cut three of the eggplants in half lengthwise.  Using a paring knife, cut down into the flesh of the eggplant 1/3" from the skin.  Cut all the way around, loosening the center of the eggplant.  Being careful not to cut the skin, use a large spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh. Cut into a 1/4" dice, set aside.  Cut the fourth eggplant into a 1/4" dice as well.

3.  In a large skillet, over medium heat, warm 2 tbs olive oil.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and  slightly browned.  Add the diced eggplant, peppers, salt and pepper.  Cover the skillet and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are browned.

4.  Cook the couscous, and let it cool slightly.  Fluff it with a fork, and add the lemon zest, ricotta cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.  Stir in the eggplant/pepper mixture, along with the roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes.

5.  Stuff the six eggplant shells with the mixture.  Cover with tinfoil and bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes.  Remove foil and finish the stuffed eggplant under the broiler to brown the tops.  Garnish with the parsley and serve.

                    Baba Ghanoush

2 medium sized Beatrice eggplants (or one full sized standard)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
2 tbs sesame seeds
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and white pepper to taste
2 tbs high quality olive oil

1.  Cut the eggplant into quarters, and place face down on a greased baking sheet.  Pierce the skin with a knife, and then roast them for 30 to 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  When done, turn the eggplants into a large bowl of cold water.  Soak for a few minutes, then peel the skin off.  Cut the flesh into 1" chunks.

2.  Place the eggplant and all the remaining ingredients into a food processor and puree until smooth.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (over night is better).

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.