round purple eggplant

Cooking with Eggplant

Last night I posted this photo of the eggplant on my instagram and pinterest feeds.

eggplant at the farmers market

I purchased four or five of these beauties last weekend from my friends at Hot Pepper Herb Farm. The actual farm is located in Great Falls, SC; but you’ll find farmers Cathy and Eric McCall selling every Saturday morning at the Matthews Community Farmers Market. They sell all sorts of seasonal product from hot and mild peppers to figs, flat beans and all sorts of fruit. You can read about the pears I’ve been buying from them for the past several weeks here.

I love eggplant. It’s a most versatile vegetable, good, as I mentioned in the social media post, in soups, stews, stir frys and in sautes. Peel and cube it and serve it bathed in curry ; or bread and fry it up as you would for fried green tomatoes.

baby eggplant

Want a quick and easy curry “recipe” ? My current go to is a fabulous local GotToBeNC product from an Asheville-Based company called Vegetable Kingdom, you can see their entire line of products and order online here. The Mushroom Soup medley also makes a great sauce and is a delicious finishing touch to a stack of GBD ( that’s Golden, Brown & Delicious) sliced fried eggplant.

Fried Eggplant

So, last night when I posted the photo it was my intent to bread and fry the slices; then layer them in a casserole with my homemade tomato sauce. The result? A quick and easy dinner of Eggplant Parmesan.

But that’s not what happened.

I started with the sauce using an assortment of fresh local tomatoes – also purchased this past week from the farm store at Tega Hills Farm and on Saturday from the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market from the farmers at A Way of Life Farm, Bluebird Farm and Honey Tree Farm. I didn’t make it to the Uptown Farmers Market last weekend, but if I had been there I would have also bought purple field tomatoes from Barbee Farms as well.

eggplant parmesan and a salad

I think it probably goes without saying that I love tomatoes, even more than I love eggplant. I will be sad to see the season end; and so, I am trying to buy and eat as many as I can before that first frost; or the time that farmers start to dig up plants to make room for Fall crops!

The beauty of this quick and easy tomato sauce is that it takes very little prep and hardly any time to cook. It freezes well if you want to make extra to enjoy over the winter. Its different than my classic recipe for marinara sauce which starts with minced carrots, onions, and celery or fennel. Different, but every bit as good, particularly when you start with just picked tomatoes.

Back to the Fried Eggplant

So, my intent was to start the fresh tomato sauce; and while the tomatoes were cooking, bread and fry the eggplant slices. Truth is, I just didn’t feel like the mess that often comes with standard breading procedure. Its not hard, its just a lot of bowls and a pan of hot oil I just didn’t want to deal with last night. Some nights are like that.

And so I decided to grill the peeled slices of eggplant. It was easy and fast and a good way to go. I used an indoor cast iron grill pan over my stove top; but it would have been just as easy (and actually faster) to pop the eggplant on the grill outside.

sliced raw eggplant

Eggplant on the Grill

For the indoor pan, you’ll also need a bit of olive oil. Drizzle the pan – not the eggplant – with the hot oil and heat the pan. Place the slices of eggplant on the cast iron grill and cook until grill marks show and they begin to brown. It all happens in minutes, so don’t walk away. Check them every couple of minutes and when one side is browned, flip the slices over to brown the other side. You won’t need any additional oil.

Here’s a tip for browning eggplant on the grill or in a saute pan. Don’t salt the slices or cubes of eggplant first. If you do, the salt will draw out water. Wet things won’t brown, they just steam. Best to leave the seasonings for your eggplant till after the cooking is done.

Heidi Billotto

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

eggplant parmesan on a plate

Once the eggplant is grilled you can slice it on a salad, serve it on a platter of grilled veggies as an appetizer or use it for a grilled Eggplant Parmesan.

Here’s how easy it is. You really don’t need a recipe at this point. Just assembly instructions.

First, make the tomato sauce with local tomatoes. Keep reading, the sauce recipe is at the end of this post. The recipe will of course work with canned tomatoes in a pinch ( try to organic, here); but truly, the taste of fresh local tomatoes will be so much better.

Once you’ve grilled the eggplant as I just explained, place the grilled slices on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Top the grilled slices with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Use real aged Italian Parmesan, not the stuff in the green can. If you want to keep it local, which you know is what I would suggest, use your favorite local cheese.

slices of eggplant with melted cheese

Place the pan of cheese laden grilled eggplant under the broiler for a minute or so until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. The beauty here is that the grilled eggplant and the broiled aged cheese will both have a crispy texture. Crispy is always a good thing.

You could layer the sauce and the crispy eggplant in a casserole dish and make it ahead. Then simply reheat, cut and serve. Or do what I did last night. Toss the sauce with a bit of pasta and then layer the crispy eggplant slices with the sauce to make a 2-3 layer stack. Serve with a salad on the side and dinner is on the table.

Heidi’s Homemade Tomato Sauce

Use locally sourced or canned organic tomatoes to make your own tomato sauce from scratch!

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword easy, eggplant, how to, pasta, sauce, tomatoes, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil I like Olive Crate Kores Estate
  • 4-5 cups assorted locally grown cherry tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. dried oregano leaves My go-to here is, again, from Olive Crate
  • 5-6 leaves Fresh picked basil from your kitchen garden or the Farmers Market
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 (2 inch piece) of the rind of aged Italian Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan.

  2. Add the dried oregano and the whole or halved cherry tomatoes

  3. Allow the tomatoes to cook over medium heat. They will gradually cook down all by themselves. Stir the mix occasionally.

  4. Add the slice of Parmesan cheese rind. Just drop it in the pot. it won't fully melt but it will add a fabulous layer of flavor and your probably won't have to add any additional salt.

  5. The longer the tomatoes cook, the saucier the mix will get. You will not need to any additional liquid.

  6. When the tomatoes have cooked down to your liking. Remove the Parmesan rind and add the fresh basil. Use as you would like.

Recipe Notes

Just a few where-to shop notes. For the Kores Estate EVOO and the Dried Greek Oregano, go to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturdays and you’ll find the Olive Crate in Building 2. Or, visit OliveCrate.com. Use the code SHIPFREEOC, and enjoy Free shipping with every purchase.

Local cheeses are available at several area farmers markets. And, at local cheese shops in Charlotte my go-to’s are Orrmans Cheese Shop at 7th Street Station and The Loyalist in Matthews. You can also find a very nice selection of local cheese in the cheese department at the SouthPark area Whole Foods.

If you are using your tomato sauce to make Heidi Billotto’s Grilled Eggplant Parmesan, remember…To keep the eggplant crispy,ย  you’ll get the best results with an aged cheese rather than a fresh or soft cheese.

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