It’s still somewhat surprising to me that eggplant grows at all in New England, for this is a vegetable that one usually associates with the hotter climes of southern Italy and Greece. But, in fact, eggplant does thrive, even in Maine gardens, particularly the smaller Italian varieties of this purple beauty.

Their peak season is mid-summer to mid-autumn, coinciding with prime tomato season, so combining these two affiliated vegetables is our natural inclination. If the eggplants you are using are fresh and young, they do not really need preliminary salting to draw out bitterness, but I like giving them just a sprinkle of salt, because it helps prevent their absorbing quite so much oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAKED HERBED EGGPLANT WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND FETA

A crumble of stark-white fresh feta finishes this dish with its delightful tang and attractively contrasting color.

Servings: 6 to 8

2 pounds young eggplant

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in chunks

6 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes (about 3 medium-sized)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Lightly oil one large baking dish such as a 9-by-13-inch rectangle. Cut the unpeeled eggplants into 1/2- to 3/4-inch lengthwise slices. Arrange cut sides up, overlapping slightly, in the baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for about 15 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the parsley, basil and garlic, and pulse to coarsely chop. With the motor running, pour oil through the feed tube to make a coarse puree. (Or, you can chop the herbs and garlic by hand and combine with the oil.)

Use paper towels to blot eggplant surfaces dry and to wipe off the excess salt. Grind black pepper over. Drizzle with herb mixture, scatter tomatoes over, and cover baking dish with foil. (Can be prepared a couple of hours ahead to this point and held at cool room temperature.)

Preheat the oven to 350. Place covered dish in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender. Uncover, sprinkle with the feta and continue to bake, uncovered, until eggplant is very soft and cheese has melted slightly, about 10 minutes. Serve with a small spatula, directly from the baking dish.

MIDDLE EASTERN EGGPLANT

This spiced eggplant spread is somewhat similar to Sicilian caponata except that it’s seasoned with Eastern Mediterranean spices. The orange flower water, which is sold in some liquor stores, gives the mixture a subtly exotic scent, but if you can’t find it, the eggplant is delicious without it.

Servings: About 12 appetizer servings

1 medium eggplant, unpeeled, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

About 2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/2-inch dice

1 medium tomato, seeded and chunked

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon orange flower water, optional

Small crackers or quartered small pita breads

About 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Alfalfa sprouts

In a colander, toss the eggplant with the salt and set aside for 15 minutes. Transfer to a double layer of paper towels and pat dry.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add eggplant and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Raise heat to medium high, add bell pepper, zucchini, tomato, and garlic and cook, stirring, until all vegetables begin to give off their juices, about 5 minutes. Simmer uncovered over medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are very soft and most of their liquid is evaporated, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cumin and cayenne, and season to taste with salt and pepper. When almost cool, stir in the optional orange flower water. (Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Can be made up to 3 days ahead.)

Serve eggplant in a bowl surrounded by crackers or pitas, a small bowl of plain yogurt, and sprouts. Scoop up a small spoonful of eggplant with the cracker or bread, spoon a little yogurt over, and top with a few sprouts.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.