Well, I guess the answer is almost anything you want. Let’s take the word belladonna. In Italian that translates into beautiful woman. It is also the botanical name for deadly nightshade, a virulent poison that featured largely in the dynastic dramas of the Roman Claudians, the papal Borgias and even Macbeth as Duncan’s lieutenant. This same nightshade family includes our everyday, undeadly tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. Some animated family branches include a character called Dudley Nightshade, who played arch nemeses to the redoubtable Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick, Rags the Tiger. These three cartoon characters amassed a Pied Piper following of children every Saturday morning from 1950 through 1952. The same characters served as prototypes for Rocky and Bullwinkle, who appealed to both children and adults, though Dudley lost his villainous place to Boris Badenov and (Nuy-ha-ha) Dishonest John.
Back to the botanical, this has been a difficult year for vegetables. There is a dearth of balance between sun and rain, only extremes of both. (Hmmmm, what else does that sound like?) Weather, who is an Olympian of ill-humor and rarely a team player, has not managed squelched the nightshade family’s eggplants and their presence in our farmers’ market. From the skinny, brighter Japanese varieties, to the pumpkin round variety, to the heavy-bottomed, deep-purple eggplant we find spilled over the market tables, the options for upping your kitchen game are plentiful.
It is interesting that though the tomato and potato were unknown in Europe before Columbus and his followers, their second cousin, the eggplant, was known and independently domesticated and cultivated across Europe, north Africa and onward through Near, Middle and Far Easts centuries before. Slice it, dice it, grill it, roast it, sauté it, stack it, pureé it, eggplant is a most amenable partner to many flavors and methods. We’re probably most familiar with the contributions made by Italian-Americans use of eggplant with mozzarella, tomato and Parmesan. Today, however, we’re offering a taste of Greece with Eggplant Pastitsio with Feta, Tomatoes, Peppers and Mint. Despite knowing and loving all the ingredients, this was a surprisingly pleasing dish to bring to the table. When you’ve tried that recipe, you may want to refresh your memory on the market website of past eggplant ideas such as Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Jalapeno, Ginger and Lime or Eggplant Involtini.