Farmer's Market Report & Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

Monday, August 29, 2011

What was available at Farmer's Market this week? Well, there was cantaloupes and watermelons, potatoes, red and green peppers, sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, honey, baked goods (the last week for our bakery folks -- we'll miss you) AND EGGPLANT.

Have you tried eggplant lately? You should.

Called aubergine in France, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family of vegetables, including tomato and potato. Known for its characteristic taste as well as texture, eggplants are best enjoyed between August and October. This much-overlooked vegetable is loaded with all kinds of health benefits. Eggplant’s fiber content is high, which helps our digestive process and acts against coronary heart disease. Eggplants are loaded with a number of vitamins, proteins and minerals (including Potassium which helps balance salt intake for us and helps regulating blood pressure), they also contain important phytonutrients. All that said, you should run not walk to buy yourself an eggplant and try it today.

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed. The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.

Many (maybe even most) eggplant recipes call for breading and frying. Those recipes are wonderful BUT do not fit in with my way of eating. Healthier ways of preparing eggplant are equally yummy and this one is not fussy to make and can be made ahead (isn't that a huge help on busy weeknights?). Serve this on the side of grilled meats OR combine with a salad and some crusty bread as a meatless meal.

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
(Printable Version)

2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
¾ cup mozzarella (divided)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1-½ cups marinara sauce (divided)- I make this from my fresh tomatoes and herbs
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 450°F. Trim stems and ends from eggplant and peel, leaving several 1-inch wide strips of peel intact. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse the eggplant under cool water, drain thoroughly and pat dry. Toss the slices in the olive oil and place on 2 baking sheets. Bake 20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool. Reduce oven heat to 350°F. In a small bowl, combine ricotta cheese, ½ cup mozzarella cheese, parsley and basil. In an 8 x 8 baking dish, spread ½ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of eggplant slices in the dish and spread ½ cup of the cheese mixture on top; repeat, layering 2 more times. Top with remaining (1 cup) marinara sauce and sprinkle the remaining (¼ cup) mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese on top. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes; remove aluminum foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly golden brown. Cool slightly and serve.

Do ahead: Cover the unbaked Roasted Eggplant Parmesan with aluminum foil and refrigerate up to 24 hours. You may need to bake covered 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes or until slightly golden brown.

Posting to Yvonne's On The Menu Monday!