At this time of year, we can be positively overrun with fresh, tasty vegetables. This side dish provides another option for enjoying them, and it is an appropriate accompaniment for almost any meal. A vegetable gratin is also one of the most delicious ways to serve eggplant. A little cheese makes everything taste better! Leftovers also taste great the next day, at room temperature, as a salad.
- 2 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 small or 1 medium eggplant, cut into thin rounds
- 4 small or 2 medium zucchini, cut into thin rounds
- 5 small or 3 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
- 2 tsp. fresh minced herbs
- Salt to taste
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Grated Parmesan cheese to taste (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously rub the bottom of a gratin dish with the cut sides of the garlic. Add the onion to the dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and herbs, and drizzle with some of the olive oil. Continue layering with the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, again sprinkling each layer with salt, herbs and oil, finishing with a generous layer of Parmesan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
It was Tomato Fest at area farmers markets this past Saturday, which meant that every stall had bowls of fresh tomatoes set out for sampling. From cherry tomatoes to thick slicing tomatoes to my favorite, the sweet-tart green zebra-striped ‘maters, it was snacking heaven. Our garden tomatoes haven’t ripened yet, so of course we had to buy plenty.
Fresh eggplant also on hand and basil from the garden inspired the above dish of summery eggplant parmesan. I usually consider eggplant parmesan to be a heavy dish, but it can be lightened considerably by eliminating the eggy breading that typically coat the eggplant slices before frying.
My husband made the tomato sauce from roma tomatoes, but you can use this recipe to make your own sauce. Cook the tomatoes down until they are very thick and smooth. You don’t even have to puree this sauce, although putting it through the food mill does get rid of the skins.
I lightly sauteed thin eggplant slices in a little olive oil first so that they would be tender in the casserole. In a baking dish, layer the tomato sauce, sauteed eggplant slices, sliced fresh mozzarella (the kind packed in water), slivered basil leaves and grated Parmesan. Add another layer of everything, starting with sauce and finishing with even more sauce and a generous covering of Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, 20-30 minutes. Delicioso!
I have been away, on summer vacation. And I haven’t been doing much cooking. But we are back now, and I will try to offer the occasional recipe that is perfect for summer.
This grilled eggplant salad is such a recipe, because it’s done on the grill and it takes advantage of the fresh garden vegetables available to us right now. It begins with eggplant, thickly sliced, brushed with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil and garlic, and then grilled until it looks like this. (My husband took the lovely photos; he also did the grilling.)
You could go ahead and eat the eggplant right now, and I’m sure it would be delicious. But it’s even better dressed up as a salad. The eggplant is chopped and combined with fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella and more basil. This is a salad you can’t eat enough of, equally lovely with grilled chicken or on a picnic.
Here’s the recipe.
Grilled Eggplant Salad
Time to make: ~20 minutes plus time to cool
Yields: 4-6 servings
- 1 medium eggplant, thickly sliced
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 5-7 basil leaves, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 4 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
- additional basil for garnish, julienned
Combine the olive oil, vinegar, minced basil, garlic, salt and pepper, and whisk well. Brush both sides of each eggplant slice with this mixture. Grill the eggplant for 3-4 minutes per side, until softened and slightly charred. Let the eggplant cool, preferably to room temperature.
Cube the eggplant slices. Combine in a bowl with the tomato and mozzarella. Sprinkle with basil and additional salt and pepper. Toss gently and serve.
Now is the time for eggplant. If there is none in your garden, surely there is plenty at the farmers market. A lot of people don’t like eggplant, but I think that’s mainly because of how it’s cooked. Eggplant is the sponge of the vegetable world; when fried, it can absorb a lot of grease and turn into an unappetizing brownish mush. But when cooked in other ways, such as broiled or grilled, eggplant is hearty and flavorful.
Eggplant parmesan is one of the dishes many people think of when they think of eggplant. Unfortunately, the eggplant is usually smothered beneath breading, heavy tomato sauce and cheese — not the epitome of a light summer dish. This version of eggplant parmesan, which I made the other night to raves, is lighter, tastier and easier than the traditional version, and it takes advantage of the garden goodness that’s so abundant right now.
Here are the differences between this recipe and the traditional dish:
- The eggplant is broiled, not fried, and it is not coated with breading.
- The tomato sauce is a quick one, preferably made with fresh tomatoes.
- Keep a light hand with the cheese.
Time to make: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Yields: about 4 servings
- 1 lg. eggplant
- olive oil for drizzling
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup or more tomato sauce, preferably made with fresh roma tomatoes (recipe)
- handful of fresh basil leaves, shredded
- 4 oz. whole-milk fresh mozzarella
- 4 oz. grated Parmesan
First prepare the tomato sauce. Amounts are approximate as I didn’t measure how much I used, but if you have the tomatoes, make extra and freeze the rest or use it for pasta.
While the sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler. Slice the eggplant into half-inch rounds. There is no need to peel or salt the eggplant, unless you suspect it may be particularly bitter. Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Drizzle lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until tender, 8-10 minutes, turning once during cooking time. Set aside.
Turn the oven heat down to 425 degrees. In a casserole dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce. Add the eggplant slices in a single layer. Top with more sauce and scatter the basil over. Slice the mozzarella thinly. Layer the mozzarella on top, also in a single layer. Scatter over the Parmesan cheese.
Bake until bubbly, 20-30 minutes. Delicious served with a side of pasta.
Notes: You could easily turn this into chicken parmesan. Just cook the chicken as instructed here and substitute it for the eggplant. Thickly sliced, broiled zucchini or portobello mushrooms would also make a good substitution or addition to this dish.
This versatile dish goes with so many things. Use it as a bed for grilled chicken, steak or fish, or top a heap of pasta or rice. Cool, toss with a vinaigrette and serve as a salad, or use them to top bruschetta. Sauteed vegetables also make a nice filling for tacos, omelets or sandwiches.
My favorite garden vegetables for sauteeing are onions, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash and zucchini. (The pictured mix is onions, cherry tomatoes and diced eggplant, sprinkled with parsley.) But experiment with different vegetables and combinations.
The technique couldn’t be easier:
- Cut the vegetables into small slices or dice.
- In a nonstick or well seasoned skillet, heat a small amount of oil over medium-high until the oil is shimmering.
- Add the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are browned and tender. Most vegetables take 10-15 minutes.
- Season and sprinkle with fresh herbs to serve.
Note: Watch the vegetables carefully while they’re cooking. If they’re browning too fast, reduce the heat.
It has turned cold and wintry here this week. The wind is whipping the leaves off the trees, and when I walked my dog this morning, I had to break out my hat and gloves. I expect we’ll have a few more days of this and then we’ll get our Indian summer, which is the bonus we get for living in North Carolina. Until then, though, we’ll warm our tummies with roasted vegetables.
Roasting is a great method because it is low in fat but high in flavor. The sugars in the food caramelize, turning vegetables into candy. I like to use this method for two kinds of vegetables: those with a lot of water, as the dry heat draws out the moisture and intensifies the flavor; and firm vegetables, which become sweet and tender after a slow roasting. In the first category are asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, summer squash and zucchini. In the second are carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
Recently, at the exhortation of Cook’s Illustrated, I tried roasting green beans. They came out shriveled and ugly, but they tasted so sweet. We gobbled them right up. This only goes to show that every now and then you’ve got to try an old method on a new ingredient and see what happens.
Here’s the standard guide for roasting vegetables:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
- Cut your vegetables into fairly large pieces, cubes or chunks or thick slices
- Toss the vegetables with a little oil
- Spread the vegetables out on a baking sheet (covered with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) and put them in the oven
- About halfway through the cooking time, shake the pan to redistribute the food or turn each piece over, if you’re the patient sort
This is a good time to add seasoning or herbs, which may burn if added at the beginning of the cooking time.
- They’re done when they are browned and tender
The only variation to this method is the time each kind of vegetable needs to roast, which is something you learn as you go along. Just keep checking and use your common sense. Firmer vegetables need longer to cook, while thinner vegetables like green beans and asparagus will require only 15 minutes or so. If you’re roasting a lot of vegetables together, which is a very simple and good side dish for any meal, you may have to add them at different times to get them all to come out done together.