TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Eggplant, valued for its taste and sponge-like texture, is a late summer vegetable with a deep-rooted history. Originating as a wild plant in India, the Chinese were the first to cultivate eggplant for consumption. The plant later spread to Europe and was originally grown purely for decorative purposes, due to its bitter, sour taste. Later, in the 18th century, new varieties of eggplant were developed, causing this vegetable to gain culinary appeal. Today, eggplant is a popular vegetable grown worldwide. Although available year-round, eggplant peaks July through October, for flavor and affordability.
A member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes; eggplant grows on vines. While eggplant in the classic oval shape and dark purple color is the most popular variety; eggplant can be found in a variety of shapes and colors. Other varieties include white, black or green eggplant, found in spherical to long and narrow shapes.
Eggplant is a low-fat, low-calorie food. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a powerful source of flavonoids, like chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Research has shown these nutrients, along with a healthy well balanced diet, may help fight cancer and protect brain cells.-
When choosing eggplant, look for those that are smooth, shiny, firm and heavy for their size. The stem should be deep green in color and the skin should spring back when lightly squeezed. Avoid eggplant that contains soft spots, wrinkled skin, or discoloration.
To store, fresh eggplant can be kept in a cool dry place for up to two days. For longer storage, place whole unwashed eggplant in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for five to seven days. To freeze, blanch or steam sliced eggplant. Dry thoroughly and place in freezer-safe packaging, then store in the freezer for six to nine months.
Eggplant is a meaty vegetable that sometimes tends to have a bitter flavor. Its sponge-like texture absorbs marinades well and can be grilled, roasted, sauteed and even pickled. To prepare, wash and slice eggplant right before cooking, as the exposed flesh will begin to brown when exposed to the air. While the skin is edible, eggplant skin can sometimes be tough and may need peeling.
Eggplant Parmesan is a classic Italian dish full of flavor. Served up with some steamed veggies, a side salad, or crusty bread, this dish is the perfect meatless meal.
Classic Eggplant Parmesan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
2 medium eggplant, washed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup mozzarella cheese
2 (cup) marinara sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
In a bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and seasonings. Dip sliced eggplant in beaten eggs, then in bread crumb mixture and coat thoroughly. Place prepared eggplant on prepared baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove eggplant from oven and top each piece with two tablespoons marinara sauce and one tablespoon mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
— Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was nine years old in her mother’s kitchen. She knows how to get food on the table in a pinch while sticking to a budget. Currently, Chef Heather serves as a freelance writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.