Monday, May 19, 2014


Eggplant three

 Long and slender, short and plump, curvaceous, voluptuous, pulp fiction. Glossy. Sleek. Polished. Round, oblong, pear-shaped. Pale mauve the color of tulips, deep garnet a ring slipped on a finger, a rope of stones around my neck, against my skin. White, the color of a goose egg, eggplant. Curiously striped, the zebra of vegetables.

 Yet not a vegetable. A fruit with a hint of intrigue, a descendent of the nightshade family, literary poison. A fruit with a doubtful reputation, melanzane, mela insane, crazy apple.

 …bringing forth fruit of the bigness of a great cucumber. Provocative, titillating. Aphrodisiac. 

Eggplant slices

 Just out of college and living in New York, I was an introverted young thing, new to this concrete jungle. An aunt, my father's sister, lived in the city at the top of an apartment building, a dizzying height, with a stunning panoramic view of the park. She invited me into her home where I became acquainted with a family, cousins, aunts and uncles I barely knew, my father's side. It was a family dinner and she prepared her famous moussaka, my first moussaka. Ever.

 I remember it as one of the best things that I had ever eaten. Smooth, creamy, savory, eggplants, white sauce, lamb, the perfect meal surrounded by family.

 My first taste of eggplant in a form other than breaded, fried crispy, smothered in red sauce, couched in a thick, voluptuous layer of mozzarella and baked. A young girl's introduction to sensations heated and sexy. Or eggplants breaded and fried crispy, stuffed into an Italian roll to be eaten, gobbled up, feasted upon in some dark-hued Italian joint. Rich and sloppy.

 Moussaka, my eggplant coming of age.

Eggplant cooking

The act of salting and rinsing eggplant to reduce bitterness is called "degorging." Dégorger in French. A very disagreeable word, visions of hands around throats, squeezing out every last drop of life. Or worse. To sweat. To sweat an eggplant, layered slices pressed into the curves of a colander, doused heavily with salt and left to sweat. Like a body left out in the scorching heat, a long hike through the desert, far from an oasis of cool water, sweet shade. A sportsman after a rousing match of basketball, the summer sun beating down on bare skin, bouncing up off of the tarmac, the blacktop, hard and violent. A trickle of liquid leaving a trail down the bumpy landscape of spine, rivulets like tears coursing down the body, steaming hot. No. Not the elegant eggplant.

 I want to think of my eggplants as delicate flowers gently weeping, maidens swathed in diaphanous gowns stepping out of lakes, dripping elegantly, washing away the bitter jolt.

 Voluptuous eggplants, firm, dense beauties, lusciously curvaceous, hinting of Old World decadence, gorgeous, fleshy women draped sensually across aubergine velvet sofas. Eggplants should never be degorged, throttled or sweated.

Eggplant patterns

I once had an ongoing love affair with homemade hummus, nutty chickpeas, velvety smooth, garlicky, lemony, a backdrop of rich olive oil. And baba ganoush. Eggplants loosed of their violet wrappings, trimmed of their prickly green crown, baked and puréed, the deep, nutty, intriguingly bitter tahini swirled in. More lemon, more garlic, a mysterious, exotic hint of cumin, the brightness of parsley.

 Each and every occasion that I needed to impress, dinner guests or a get together among friends, I whipped up a batch of each, piled into a bowl, dressed with a slither of olive oil, gold against beige, a dusting of chopped parsley and surrounded by perfect little somethings with which to scoop and eat.

 One afternoon in Milan, the sun streaming in through the long French windows, light filtered through the vines shading the terrace, a table laid out with delicacies for the nibbling, I had a group of women over. As I scurried around the apartment preparing, making sure everything was sparkling, everything was in its place, I turned to look at the buffet to find my young son, six, maybe seven years old, standing, his back to me, in front of the bowl of baba ganoush. Eating that bowl of eggplant purée as if it was better than ice cream, better than a thick slice of chocolate cake or a wedge of pizza. Eggplant purée and he couldn't swallow it fast enough or eagerly enough. Eggplant purée. Spiced and oiled.

 As if that simple baba ganoush were as precious, luxurious, as special as caviar. Caviar d'aubergine.

Eggplant circles
Roasted Eggplants With Herbs  

This is one of my favourite eggplant recipes (there's a certain eggplant salad with caper and roasted almond sauce that is a strong contender) and the proof that simple is often best when it comes to cooking. The smaller the eggplants are, the better the final dish will taste but if you can't find baby eggplants use bigger ones and divide accordingly.


4 servings 

4-6 baby eggplants; if you use larger eggplants, count on about 1/2 per person

½ cup fresh herbs, chopped; I used rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint and sage
1 clove of garlic, optional
1 pinch of chili powder, optional
8-10 tbs extra virgin olive oil

   Divide the eggplants in two lengthwise and make diagonal cuts with a small and sharp knife, first from left to right and then perpendicularly from right to left so that you end up with a crisscross pattern. Be careful not to cut through the skin.

   Chop the herbs and the garlic finely, mix with salt and chili powder in a bowl and add olive oil. Stir well and spoon the herb mix on top of each eggplant half, spread it out and push the herbs into the cuts.
    Put the eggplant halves in an oven-proof dish and drizzle more olive oil over, if needed.
    Bake in a preheated oven (200°C/390°F) until soft and slightly browned, it takes about 30 minutes. It’s important that they are really well cooked. If they get brown too early, cover the dish with tin foil and go on baking. 


  1. At first I thought I should choose one over the other, and then i decided I don't have to. The writing and the images are both compellingly beautiful. I can love them both, just as I love my two children.

  2. Evidently, I have been waiting for this for my Aubergine coming of age. Truly. I will explore more willingly now because I, too, was raised with the idea that eggplant was to be floured, egged, cornmealed and fried. Lovely images and words.

  3. A beautiful post again, Jamie and Ilva... and I really do prefer the term aubergine to eggplant!

  4. Beautiful words and images. I grow these moody teardrops in my garden. I think I like watching them as much as eating them.

  5. Such a fantastic post this week, friends! And now I will think of Botticelli whenever I see an eggplant, all curvaceous and glowing. =)