The First Eggplant of Summer

I was checking the eggplant in the plastic greenhouse the other day, hoping I’d see a few small, dark purple vegetables forming among the lavender blossoms of the Galine and Diamond plants.  Instead, to my great surprise, I found, nestled in the mulch beneath the robust green plants, some really big eggplant.  Yikes!  I know it’s been warm, but I really hadn’t expected eggplant this soon. Dinner suddenly included eggplant.

Eggplant growing

Eggplant counter

Harvesting five big purple globes and bringing them to the kitchen, I turned the oven on to 475 and cut the largest two lengthwise into wedges.  I arranged the wedges on a sheet pan, brushed them generously on all sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and, when the oven reached 475, I put the pan in the oven.

Eggplant wedges raw

Eggplant roastedTwenty minutes later, the wedges had softened into creamy, sweet and slightly smoky eggplant flesh.

Half of them went onto our dinner plates, a perfect side dish for basil pesto on linguine, sugar snap peas and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes.  We ate dinner outside, celebrating the start of high summer meals.

Eggplant dinner

I put the remaining roasted eggplant into the Cuisinart to make a spread I discovered a few years ago.  This Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread is one of the best reasons to grow eggplant.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

     Toasted sesame seeds

 Preheat oven to 475°. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with ¼ cup oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.  Makes 1 and ½ cups.

Eggplant spread

There are a lot of other reasons to grow eggplant. From the remaining eggplant from this first harvest I made grilled eggplant, dried tomato and goat cheese pasta sauce from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996).

Bishop 1

Bishop 2

Bishop 3

Eggplant pasta

Looking ahead to more eggplant harvests, there’s eggplant pizza, our favorite summer pizza, and for a dinner party or even just the two of us, Ottolenghi’s eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts from his cookbook Jerusalem (2012).  Finally, as the tomatoes and peppers ripen, there is caponata, the perfect summer stew.  And with any excess eggplants, I’ll keep making the Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, great on sandwiches for lunch, on crackers or appetizers or simply by the spoonful.

Eggplants and Green Beans

Eggplant Green Beans in basketLate yesterday I walked through the kitchen garden looking for what was most ready to harvest and came away with a basket of glossy purple eggplant and matte green beans, pure colors and distinct shapes creating a still life of visual contrasts waiting for a photo but also tastes and textures ready to become a meal.  What to do with the soft, smokiness of eggplant and the crisp sweetness of green beans?  Something simple that would feature each vegetable seemed best.  The bread oven was hot and pizza dough was rising so eggplant pizza was an easy choice and so was quickly boiled beans, both preparations that would concentrate the two flavors and look pretty too.

Eggplant pizza with bowl of green beansEggplant pizza is one of my favorite ways to eat eggplant. Crisp crust, spicy garlic and melted cheeses create the perfect setting for soft roasted eggplant.  The long, slender eggplants in the basket are Hansel, a new one I’m trying this year and really like.  The fuller eggplants are Galine, a favorite for the past few years.  To prepare them for the pizza topping I sliced the Hansels in half lengthwise and the Galine lengthwise into half-inch slices, brushed both sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven until they softened, about ten minutes.  Then I cut them into inch or so pieces.  To make the pizza, I stretched out the dough, brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled the surface with about a teaspoon of chopped raw garlic, topped it with grated Trugole cheese, scattered on the eggplant bits and dusted the whole surface with grated Parmesan.  In the heat of the bread oven they were done and ready to eat in about five minutes.  I still swoon when I take the first bite of this pizza.

The green beans are Maxibel, a bush green bean I tried this year for the first time.  I always grow pole green beans, rarely bush green beans because I prefer the richer flavor of pole beans, but my friend Carol gave me some Maxibel seeds and convinced me to plant them.  They are very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  We’ve been eating them for the past three weeks and the Fortex are only now starting to produce.  I’ll grow them next year.  To prepare them, I drop the whole beans into salted boiling water and cook them, uncovered, for about four minutes, sampling them after three minutes to be sure they don’t overcook.  As a side dish for the pizza, they were perfect.  A little tomato added more color but really the stars were the eggplant and beans.

Eggplant pizza, green beans on plateI’m inspired to try other ways to combine eggplant and green beans, especially on those days when there’s no pizza in the works.  I’m going to try roasting them with some garlic and red pepper flakes as this Asian-inspired recipe from Second Harvest Foodbank suggests:

2-3 Chinese eggplants cut into 1 or 2 inch chunks

1/2 lb fresh green beans, stem ends snapped off

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 400º.

In a large casserole dish or any baking pan with deep sides, toss the eggplant, green beans, garlic, and olive oil until everything is well coated.

Sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes, and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until the green beans are as soft as you would like them.

Yields 4 servings.

There are some curries that use eggplant and green beans too.  I’m sure they’ll be tasty but I doubt that they’ll be better than eggplant pizza with a side of green beans.