Serious Eats: Recipes
The Crisper Whisperer: How to Handle Eggplant Overload
You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing the abundance of fruits and vegetables you might get from your CSA or the market. —The Mgmt.
For this week's topic, I didn't have to look past my inbox. I received an email a few days ago from Serious Eater krossbow with the arresting subject line "Please help - eggplant" and a photo of two very impressive mail crates full of purple beauties. Krossbow, that's a lot of eggplant. In a way, I almost hope you Photoshopped that picture just to get some attention. But you seem awfully nice, so even if you did, imma help you out.
First things first. Freshly picked eggplant starts out mellow and friendly. But like anyone forced to live out a life for days on end in cold storage, it can start to get bitter, and fast. No matter how many great eggplant recipes we share with you here, you're going to need to preserve some of that impressive haul.
Canning eggplant by itself is not recommended by the USDA, because eggplant is very dense. It's difficult to heat a jar packed with eggplant to safe temperatures, even in a pressure canner, without pulverizing the bejezus out of it. You'll find some thoughts to the contrary online, and if you're into pressure-canning, you can add eggplant to the USDA's recipe for mixed vegetables.
I much prefer to freeze eggplant or make a refrigerator pickle. There's no question that freezing substantially alters the texture of eggplant, but in dishes where it would be cooked down a lot anyway, there's no reason not to do so.
For the freezer, there are a few good approaches. With two mail crates full of eggplant on your hands, I would start by taking the same approach I use when winter squash threatens to go the way of Big Anthony's garden in Strega Nona's Harvest. Step 1: Crank the air conditioning. Step 2: Crank the oven to 400° F. Step 3: Prick with a fork as many whole eggplants as your lifetime's collection of rimmed baking sheets will hold. Roast until they start to collapse, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. Step 4: When the eggplants have cooled enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and pack into airtight pint containers. Freeze for up to a year.
If you have a little time on your hands, another great way to freeze eggplant is to first cook it into ratatouille, caponata, tomato sauce, or other dishes that don't rely on eggplant to hold together in slices or retain a firmer texture. See below for some of my favorite recipes.
If you want to freeze some of the eggplant in slices, PickYourOwn.org has thorough, easy-to-follow instructions here. I have to admit that I've never tried freezing eggplant this way, but if you have, we'd love to hear about your experience in the comments.
For a delicious pickled eggplant that you can keep in the refrigerator for months (as long as it's topped off with a layer of olive oil), try this old family recipe from Ms. Adventures in Italy.
Here are a few of my favorite eggplant recipes that are great for summer but also stand up well to the freezer.
There are as many versions of ratatouille as there are Provençal grandmothers, and I often cook a ratatouille-like dish with varying proportions of eggplant, summer squash, peppers, and tomatoes to use up an overabundance. In that situation, I don't worry too much about getting it perfect, because even a slightly unbalanced stew is bound to be delicious.
For consistently excellent, more A-type results, look to Elise Bauer's Dad's ratatouille recipe from the early days of Simply Recipes. And if you really want to gussy it up, try Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi, which he developed for the movie Ratatouille. It's like ratatouille, but wearing Chanel.
Once you've got your ratatouille, don't overlook the possibility of serving it with eggs—either tucked inside an omelet or hidden underneath a couple of fried or baked eggs. I like you guys, and I just wouldn't want you to have to miss out on something like that.
Eggplant caponata is a joy to spread on crusty bread as an appetizer or light meal. My favorite recipe is a slightly kicked-up adaptation of the Joy of Cooking's version, which I've included below. Mario Batali's caponata, which uses raisins, pine nuts and hints of chocolate and cinnamon, is also a lovely approach.
3. Tomato Sauce
Have a favorite recipe for homemade tomato sauce? Try adding a large diced eggplant (peeled or not, your choice) and a diced red pepper or two to the pot after you've softened the onions a bit. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes. Serve over pasta, or freeze and serve over pasta later.
A rich lamb and eggplant dish with béchamel sauce may not be front-of-mind mid-summer, but it sure is a great use of eggplant, and it freezes well, to boot. Plus, who's to say you won't need a little comfort food after dealing with all those eggplants? I like the version in The Gourmet Cookbook.
All right, folks, now it's your turn to help out a fellow SE'er. How do you handle eggplant overload? What are your favorite ways to cook eggplant? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
About the author: Carolyn Cope writes Umami Girl and manages a CSA in New Jersey.