When I saw the gorgeous purple and white Japanese eggplant this week in my CSA box, I was filled with longing and dread. Let me explain… My favorite color is purple, so naturally I love the eggplant with it’s deeply purple skin. A vegetable that’s purple, what could be better? (perhaps a purple cookie…I digress) So of course, this explains the longing. I want to love the flavor of such a beauty as well. Which leads to the dread. I have NEVER been able to prepare eggplant myself that tasted any good. It had become such a problem that I had been banned from ever buying an eggplant again. Sometimes you just gotta cut and run. Let things lie…you know, quit while you’re ahead and such.
Since this eggplant came to me via my weekly farm box, I didn’t feel like I was violating the eggplant ban because I didn’t choose it, it chose me, so to speak. I knew that I had to try again to catch my unicorn…decent homemade eggplant. This time I nailed it! But what was different this time you might ask? Two things were different, and both contributed to my new-found success. First I had never tried Japanese eggplant before, always the big fatties. This was a good change because one of the problems that I usually encounter with home cooked eggplant is the chewiness and I think eggplant texture is a good example of a little being good and too much being not so good. Second, I finally took the time to prepare the eggplant ahead of time. It is usually listed as optional in eggplant recipes, but I have found it to be completely mandatory! You must salt, drain, squeeze, rinse and pat dry. You must. I promise that it makes a huge difference.
All of the summery goodness that I needed for ratatouille was at hand, thanks to Sage Mountain Farm. I had eggplant, leeks, tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and zucchini. This dinner went over well with the fam and I have to say that the smell coming from my oven when this was baking was A. MAZE. ING! Try it and you’ll see for yourself!
4-5 Japanese eggplant, sliced and prepared ahead of time (NOT OPTIONAL)
3 zucchini, sliced
5-6 small tomatoes, sliced
8-10 cloves of garlic, minced
2 leeks, sliced
1/2 c vegetable broth, divided (or olive oil, or a combination of both)
fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
First thing to do is to prepare your eggplant.
Get out a colander and place a layer of eggplant slices in the bottom. Salt this layer liberally. Another layer of sliced eggplant, more salt. Lots of salt. The purpose of this is to draw out the excess moisture, which can give eggplant a slimy mouth-feel, and any bitterness that may be present. You will end up rinsing this salt off so don’t worry about how much to use. Continue to layer eggplant slices and salt until you have sliced and salted it all. Let this drain in your sink, and walk past occasionally to press the whole thing lightly. I put a bowl on top of the eggplant that fit inside my colander to do my pressing for me.
While this is going on slice up everything else. Get out a glass casserole dish and put a little olive oil or broth in the bottom and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Once everything is prepared and your eggplant has been draining for between 30 minutes and two hours you are ready!
Start your ratatouille with a layer of leeks. Next, for the eggplant layer, you need to grab a handful of eggplant slices and squeeze hard under running water. Pat these slices dryish and build your eggplant layer. This will take several handfuls in my experience. After the eggplant layer, put on zucchini slices followed by tomato slices. Then salt, pepper, garlic and basil all over the tomatoes. Continue making these layers until all of your ingredients are used up. When that happens take the rest of your broth (or olive oil) and drizzle it all over the top. Bake for about one hour and enjoy the smells coming from your oven!
We served this over brown rice with almond Parmesan on the top! Try it out and let me know how you liked it!