I can’t pass up a good-looking eggplant. If I see one at the grocery store I buy it, regardless of my dinner plans for the week. This is because a good eggplant is not always easy to find. I’d say there’s about a 50/50 chance of finding a good one.
And what does a good one look like? It should be a deep, dark purple (nearly black with lighter highlights revealing themselves under the bright grocery store lights). The skin should be blemish free, smooth, and taut. It’s also a good sign if the stem end is a bright green or at least shows signs of recently being so. And it should be heavy when you pick it up so that when you rap it gently with a closed fist it produces a low dull thud.
I won’t buy a lesser eggplant. I’ll change my dinner plans if I can’t find one. And that’s because eggplants of a lower quality are bitter and are responsible for giving all eggplants a bad name. This has resulted in cooks doing crazy things with eggplants, such as slicing it, putting it into a colander, salting it, and letting it sit until the juices run out. In my earlier cooking days, I tried that and found it resulted in an eggplant that still is much bitter than using a fresh one without all of this nonsense.
The key is using a good, fresh eggplant, and doing what you will to it quickly after peeling and slicing it. Don’t let it sit around getting brown.
I also partially peel my eggplants before slicing them. I do this by cutting off the stem end and then using a vegetable peeler to vertically peel strips off the eggplant from stem end to the bottom. This creates an eggplant with purple stripes. And then I slice it thinly — about a 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch or less.
Since cooking eggplant is often an impromptu act for me, I often come up with interesting recipes based on what I have on hand. This recipe came about on one of those occasions.
(This is a good dish to make if you have a little leftover tomato sauce. The Italians use a sparse amount of tomato sauce on their pasta, usually only enough to color it a deep orange, not a heavy red.)
- Orecchiette pasta (or small conchiglie, also called shells). (1 pound). Orecchiette comes from the Italian for little ears and in fact looks like little ears.
- Eggplant (1 or 2 firm and fresh specimens; chosen, peeled and sliced as described above.)
- Sausages (3 sweet Italian links)
- Tomato Sauce (about 1 cup, your favorite or mine.)
- Olive oil (enough to coat the eggplant slices and 2 cookie sheets)
- Salt (I use Kosher salt for everything.)
- Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup grated, or to your taste)
What I did:
Bring a large pot of salted water (use a good amount of salt) to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.
While water is being brought to a boil, peel and slice an eggplant as described above. Put slices on an oiled cookie sheet and brush olive oil on top of each slice. Make sure both the tops and bottoms of each slice have a thin layer of olive oil on them. Sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and cook in a 350 degree to 400 degree oven until brown on each side. Turn slices over half-way to make sure each side is a golden or dark brown. (Don’t worry about overcooking them. The thin slices will have a crisp paper texture and will taste great. Just be sure you don’t burn them!) Cook 2 cookie sheets of eggplants in this way.
When eggplant slices are done, cut them into quarters.
Crumble the sausage links into a hot frying pan with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them. Cook until done. And then transfer to a dinner plate lined with a paper towel to drain off the excess grease.
Heat the tomato sauce up over the stove.
Drain the pasta into a colander and then pour it back into the empty pot. Add sausage and stir. Add the eggplant and stir. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Add grated parmesan cheese and stir. Serve hot.
Find more recipes in the Food section.
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