When I conducted a very informal poll of some farmers at the Pleasantville Farmers Market about what fruit or vegetable I should feature this month, I was surprised at the unanimous response. “Eggplant,” said Richard Harrison from Cowberry Crossing Farm emphatically. “Eggplant,” chimed Jeff Bialas from J&A Farm, his reasoning that most people are intimidated by cooking them. “Eggplant,” responded Claudia Kenny from Little Seed Gardens, who favors the small, sweet ones.
Eggplant is extremely versatile. It can be broiled, baked, battered, breaded, brined, and braised. Its neutral, supple flesh makes it an ideal canvas for a multitude of preparations. It can be transformed into the dip baba ghanoush; marinated and served as a salad; made into a relish such as caponata; sliced, seasoned, and grilled as a side dish; diced and braised into a stew, tagine, curry, or ratatouille; or layered and baked into a casserole like the classic eggplant Parmesan. Many vegetarians and vegans prize it for its versatility, often using it as an alternative in their meatless menus.
The farmers are raising Asian varieties with names like Little Finger, Orient Express, Thai, Orient Charm (preferred by Kenny), and Black Pearl. These tend to be smaller, uniquely shaped, and a little sweeter than the more recognizable Italian varieties, which can range in color from white to purple-black. Listada has pretty violet and white stripes and is Bialas’ favorite.
Don’t be afraid of the big, bad eggplant—or the little ones, for that matter. The farmers will gladly allay your fears and give you tips on how to transform each of them into a super summer dish.