by Alison Charbonneau
August begins with a burst of life; the weather is perfect, everyone seems to be bustling about and there is TONS of fresh produce to enjoy! Too soon though, summer begins to wind down and too quickly we find ourselves planning for fall. But somewhere in the middle is the time when that hazy, mellow, idle spirit of August takes over like a bridge from the energy of July to the rush of September. It’s like the ‘Sunday of summer’ where you don’t have to juggle a million things and when you can just relax and wind down.
Buy Eggplant that are firm and glossy. Eat soon after purchase.
I like to think of the easygoing adaptable eggplant as the fruit of “Sunday”. It is not to be quickly devoured like those sweet fruits of early summer. Eggplant is a slow fruit that needs time and warmth to mature. It is the perfect bridge between many cooking styles because its soft fleshy texture can soak up and meld into the flavours that surround it.
For those hot summer days when you don’t want to cook, eggplant can be simply grilled with olive oil and topped with a cool yogurt sauce. On cooler evenings when you just want to curl up under a blanket in front of a warm bon fire, eggplant can be transformed into a hardy dish like the classic eggplant parmesan. Or if you want to do something really creative, eggplant makes a great meatball!
I know this because Noelle Barone, chef and part owner of Highview Food & Drink made me one and it was a meatless meatball marvel! “Eggplant can be a great device for developing meatless dishes,” Noelle explained. “When roasted or grilled, it can give lots of meaty texture to a dish. Much like our veal sandwich [winner of ‘Ontario’s Best Veal Sandwich' 2016], we often slice it like a scaloppini, bread it and fry until golden brown.”
Like myself, Noelle didn’t grow up eating eggplant much, however unlike myself she was fortunate to work in a great Italian restaurant in Toronto that was run by a wonderful Italian family who she still keeps in touch with and credits with teaching her how to cook with eggplant confidently as well as for a number of recipes she still uses today!
Eggplant can be intimidating if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s hard to know what to do with this strange savory fruit. Yet eggplant has a unique versatility that gives it a strength that the other berries lack. “I think eggplant goes well with everything! It easily pairs with the trio of tomato, basil and Parmesan but also with feta, mint and olives; cinnamon, pine nuts and raisins; cumin, cilantro and yogurt; miso, ginger and green onions.” Noelle suggests trying “eggplant slices lightly dressed with vinaigrette and used to roll up roasted veggies, cheese or other fillings the same way you might make a lettuce leaf taco or wrap.”
I for one am going to try to use the quiet weeks of August to really acquaint myself with eggplant and try a few recipes a good friend sent me. I will also be making those great eggplant meatballs just to see if my carnivorous kids will enjoy them as much as I did (see recipe below).
Fresh picked Eggplant will be available at Hi-Berry Farm for the rest of August.
EGGPLANT “MEATBALLS” with spaghetti & tomato sauce
- 1 large (or 2 small) eggplants, roughly 1lb
- 1/2 cup (or 1/4 a 540 mL can) chick peas, pulse in a food processor until it has the texture of coarse meal
- 6 slices fresh bread, torn into fine crumbs (crust removed)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
- all purpose flour for dusting
- salt & pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 handful torn fresh basil leaves
- 1 28 oz jar of tomato sauce
- 1 500 g package spaghetti
- Preheat oven to 375. Slice the eggplant in 1/2 lengthwise, prick the skin all over with a fork. Place on a baking sheet, roast for 1 hour, until soft and has collapsed in the center.
- When cool enough to handle, scrape flesh into large bowl and allow to cool completely. Discard skin, roughly chop eggplant.
- Fold the chick pea meal, bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, parsley, and garlic into the eggplant, mix well. Season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment. Form the eggplant mix into 3/4 inch balls, roll tightly. Dust balls with flour, refrigerate about 30 minutes.
- In a large non-stick skillet, heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil. Fry the meatballs in batches, over moderately high heat, turning occasionally until browned all over. Drain on paper towels.
- Heat tomato sauce over medium heat, add cooked eggplant balls and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Cook spaghetti according to package directions and drain. Add 2-3 ladles of tomato sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Serve pasta in a large serving dish topped with eggplant balls and remaining sauce. Garnish with fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Photography by Jill Schildroth Photography
Recipe by Chef Noelle Barone of Highview Food & Drink