When these deep purples fall into your menu, you’re in for a great dinner. The eggplant is related to an odd assortment of cousins including tomatoes, tomatillos, chili peppers and tobacco, all members of the nightshade family. While the tomato hails from the Americas, eggplant was domestically cultivated long before Europeans arrived in the western hemisphere. In fact, it is likely that it was independently domesticated in Europe and in Asia.
Like its cousin the tomato, the eggplant is a fruit, a berry to be precise, that we commonly treat as a vegetable. (Dare one wonder how tobacco is classified?) In England and much of continental Europe, the eggplant is called an aubergine. Regardless of its nomenclature, the eggplant is a staple in cuisines worldwide. It is sometimes egg-shaped, oblong, wide-bottomed, round or elongated. Whatever the shape, the eggplant is versatile in the extreme. Depending on the cultural cuisine of its table, it is roasted, grilled, fried, boiled, sautéed, stuffed, layered, mashed, pureed and baked. In northeastern U.S. many of us first knew eggplant as represented in the Italian Eggplant Parmesan, Caponata and Pasta Alla Norma. If we were lucky, we might have been introduced to the Moussakas of Greece and Turkey. As America grew and enfolded other cultures, those peoples brought us the eggplant salads with nuts and spices of the Balkans; the salads and dips, Baba Ghanoush being the most famous, of the Near and Middle East. The French bequeathed us Ratatouille and Eggplant Caviar. Integral to cuisines as far-flung as Africa, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, China,
This purple, white, or lavender fruit is a determined good neighbor. It plays well with many other fruits, vegetables, cheese, herbs and spices. Available on the website from previously published columns are Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Jalapeno, Ginger and Lime and Eggplant and Tomato Whoppers. Today’s recipe is of Italian descent and is called Involtini in which the eggplant is sliced longwise, grilled, stuffed, rolled and finally baked. Despite the list of treatments, it’s pretty easy.