Monday, August 8, 2011

Heirloom Eggplant

Go to your local super market and you're likely to see one type of eggplant. A huge, hulking conehead-shaped deep purple thing that had been shipped from halfway around the world to eventually land at a place conveniently nearby. While these are just fine for heavy dishes like eggplant parm, and I love me some eggplant Parmesan, to just lightly fry them up doesn't tend to yield a whole lot of flavor. Now, if you happen to find yourself at your local farmers market at the beginning of August, a variety of heirloom eggplant should await you. There are white eggplants, the standard deep purple eggplants, long and skinny Asian eggplants, and then beautiful smaller globe shaped eggplants. For tonight's side dish, I decided on these lovely lilac colored eggplants, each about the size of a softball.
Preparation for sauteed eggplant is not rocket science, but it does take a little longer than if you were just frying up some zucchini. I like to slice up my eggplant into quarter inch rounds. I place a couple paper towels onto a cutting board, and arrange my eggplant slices over the paper towels. I give a good sprinkling of salt to each round, and place another layer of paper towels on top. Now, take a cookie sheet, and a heavy pot, and use those to weight down the eggplant. After about half an hour to forty-five minutes, the eggplant will have shed a lot of their moisture (not all of it). Give each slice a quick rinse to get off the excess salt, and then dry them off.
Pick out a large frying pan, add enough oil so that it'll be about halfway up the side of a slice of eggplant, and apply a medium high heat. When the oil is hot enough, throw in your eggplant so that there is a single layer in the pan. It should take about three minutes on one side, and three minutes on the other, but when they look ready... slightly translucent, then go ahead and take them off and put them onto a plate with a paper towel to drain the oil a little bit. 
What to add? Well, they don't really need much. Fresh eggplant are delicious, especially when cooked just long enough, but not so much that you have a soggy mess. They're a little nutty, a little grassy, and kind of taste like squash. With the savory flavor unearthed by lightly frying, and then just a bit of salt and pepper, you have a very simple, easy to make, enjoyable side dish. 

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