Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roast Eggplant

Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil, Overhead View

A Quick, Healthy Way to Enjoy Eggplant’s Peak Season

Chances are you can find some nice-looking eggplant in your market right now — at the best prices of the year. That’s because eggplant’s peak season is from August through October (in the Northern hemisphere, at least). So now is the time to enjoy the rich flavor of this purple-hued veggie.

It’s a favorite around the world. Yet despite its beauty and great nutritional value, eggplant (also called aubergine) isn’t a major player in US kitchens.

Why? Two main reasons, it seems. First, eggplant can be bitter, so you need to spend some time dehydrating it (usually by salting) before cooking to draw out the juices that cause the bitter taste. Second, because eggplant has a spongy texture, if you sauté or fry it (as is common in the US) it absorbs loads of oil — resulting in a sodden, heavy dish.

Well, good news: Roasting eggplant takes care of both concerns! Modern eggplant isn’t that bitter to begin with, but the high heat of an oven evaporates whatever bitter juices may be present — essentially duplicating the end result of salting without all the trouble. And because eggplant cooks beautifully at high heat with minimal oil, roasting yields in a much lighter, healthier dish (one that goes well with roast chicken, beef, or pork).

Best yet? Once your oven is preheated, you can have eggplant on the table in under half an hour. Season it with fresh thyme or basil, and you have a taste sensation that even the most finicky eaters in your household will devour. Then they’ll demand seconds.



Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil

Recipe:  Roast Eggplant

You can use any kind of eggplant for this recipe — including the fat, deep-purple varieties common in US markets and the thinner Italian and Chinese types.  All work, but if you use the big purplish eggplant, try to get ones that weigh a pound or a bit less — they have better flavor than the jumbo ones, IMO (although the huge ones work quite well in this recipe).

The trick to preparing any eggplant is to make sure the interior is fully cooked — because underdone eggplant can be somewhat unpleasant.  (This can be a problem when you grill eggplant; the exterior may be nicely charred, while the interior is still a bit raw.)  Eggplant is done when the exterior has browned and you can stick a fork into a piece without any resistance. 

This recipe will serve 4 to 6, but you can expand it to suit your needs.  I usually figure that 1 pound of eggplant feeds 2 to 3 (people will eat more of this than you think).  Roasting time is 20 minutes or a bit longer.

Ingredients
  • ~2 pounds eggplant
  • ~½ cup olive oil or neutral vegetable oil (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons fresh basil or thyme leaves for garnish (optional but tasty)
Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Wash the eggplant and cut off the stem end.  Cut the eggplant into round slices (½-inch thick) or cubes (¾-inch) thick.
  3. Pour the oil onto a rimmed baking sheet (the smallest that will hold the eggplant in one layer).  Slick the sides of the eggplant with oil, coating each half if you’ve cut the eggplant into slices, or all 4 sides if you’ve cut it into cubes (use more oil if necessary to lightly coat each side).  Arrange the eggplant on the baking sheet, sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste, and put into preheated oven.  Set timer for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, wash and chop the fresh basil or thyme garnish, if using.
  5. At the 10-minute mark, remove the baking sheet and turn the eggplant pieces (flip slices over; turn cubes onto a different side).  Sprinkle with more salt and pepper to taste.
  6. If roasting slices, continue roasting until done (about 10 more minutes).  If roasting cubes, set timer for 5 minutes.  When the timer goes off, turn the cubes onto another side, then set timer for another 5 minutes.  When the timer goes off again, turn the cubes onto another side and cook until done (it’s possible the eggplant will be done after 20 minutes total, though with cubes it often takes a minute or two more).
  7. Put the eggplant slices/cubes in a bowl and adjust seasoning.  Toss briefly with basil or thyme leaves, and serve.
Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil

Notes
  • If you want to salt your eggplant before roasting, it’s OK to do so — though I think it’s a waste of time with this recipe (but see next Note).  Directions for salting:  After you slice or cube the eggplant, arrange the pieces in a colander so that you line the surface of the colander with them.  Salt the pieces, then weigh them down with plates or saucers for half an hour.  At that time, wipe off the excess salt and moisture with paper towels, and proceed.  Some people rinse off the eggplant at the 30-minute mark, then wipe dry with paper towels.
  • Even without salting, I find that a hot oven mellows eggplant (while also allowing a nice crust to form).  But some cooks prefer to salt before roasting.  One of my blogging friends, Marina, in this post over at Picnic at Marina says she gets a better crust when she salts before roasting (see our discussion in the comments). I have tried it her way and haven’t noticed a difference — but you might. Salting probably makes a bigger difference if you’re frying or sautéing eggplant, because it may prevent the veggie from soaking up so much oil. I haven’t measured, but some people say their eggplant absorbs up to 1/3 less oil if they salt it first. That’s significant! I haven’t done the research to see how true this claim is, but it’s something to keep in mind. 
  • Which oil to use when roasting?  For most veggies, I use “pure” olive oil (the cheap stuff) because the delicate flavors of extra-virgin dissipate in a hot oven.  But for this recipe, I typically use an inexpensive extra-virgin olive oil for a flavor boost.  Although I lose some volatile flavors to the heat of the oven, the eggplant absorbs enough of the oil to make a difference (remember, it’s spongy).  If you’re not looking for extra flavor enhancement, just use pure olive oil or a neutral vegetable oil (canola works well).
  • When buying eggplant, make sure to get ones with firm, glossy flesh.  If you gently squeeze them, the flesh should spring back, leaving no indent from your thumb.  
  • You can find decent eggplant year round, but in the Northern Hemisphere this is their peak season, so they’re abundant and inexpensive.  
  • Although there are numerous types of eggplant available worldwide, most US markets offer only 3 or 4 varieties.  For this recipe, any type you’re likely to find works well.
  • Eggplant has been cultivated in Asia since prehistoric times (meaning before written records).  But it’s been available in the West only since the 15th century or so.  Eggplant is now popular throughout the world, and many cuisines (including Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and European) do marvelous things with it.  Eggplant is an extremely versatile veggie.  Although it’s great roasted, you can also do much more with it (stewing, stuffing, and frying are all popular options).  And its flavor beautifully compliments tomatoes - I often serve them together.
Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil

Celebrating Columbus Day Week

Speaking of the 15th century:  Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas 520 years ago this month (October 1492).  He didn’t “discover America,” of course.  Numerous indigenous peoples were already living in both North and South America by the time Cristoforo Colombo (his original name) set foot in the New World.  He probably wasn’t even the first European to make landfall — Vikings may have established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland centuries earlier. 

But Columbus set off a European rush for conquest that (literally) changed the landscape of the Americas forever.  Which is why his arrival is celebrated as a holiday in many parts of the New World today.  In the US, we officially observe his day tomorrow (Monday, October 8) — which gives many government workers a 3-day weekend. 

Private organizations in the US don’t generally observe Columbus Day, so most of us will be heading off to work or school as usual.  But, hey, that just means we can observe the day on our own schedule, right?  For me, that means celebrating on Friday, October 12 — which happens to be the anniversary of the actual day that Columbus landed in the New World.  (And I still get a 3-day weekend this year.  How nice!) 

And what better way to celebrate than by cooking something Italian?  Columbus was from Genoa, after all (though he sailed on a commission from the monarchs of Spain).

The Italians just happen to be geniuses at cooking eggplant.  So later this week, I’ll be doing another eggplant dish:  Pasta alla Norma.   

Columbus would approve, don’t you think?

You may also be interested in reading about:
Roast Cauliflower
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Roast Asparagus
Roast Belgian Endive
Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce
Spicy Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic
Pink Dal with Swiss Chard
Sweet Potatoes in Curry Sauce
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
Vegan Mapo Tofu
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans Roast Belgian Endive
Braised Belgian Endive

86 comments:

  1. Roasting eggplant is the only way I prepare it. It gives it such a great flavor and the texture is wonderful. I'd never thought I even liked eggplant until I had it prepared this way. Now it's one of my fall favorites!

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    1. Hi Kristy, isn't this a wonderful dish? Extraordinary flavor, and you're so right about the texture. My fav way of preparing it, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I tremendously enjoy eggplant, and would have it grilled, fried, baked, steamed, as antipasto... in short: it's one of my favorites! :) Thanks for sharing this recipe!

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    1. Hi Sarah, eggplant is good stuff! I've never steamed it - I should try that sometime. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. I'll have to try this; I've had eggplant I've enjoyed but I've never made one myself that I've loved...maybe it will be like Brussels sprouts for me? Roasting made ALL the difference!

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    1. Hi Barbara, roasting does amazing things to veggies. I'll bet you would like it - lots of people dislike Brussels sprouts and cauliflower until they have it roasted, then they fall it love. It's certainly worth a try. Thanks for your comment.

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  4. There is just something so enticing about roast eggplant, I must try your recipe :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, isn't roast eggplant nice? Great way to enjoy this vegetable. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Eggplant has long been a family favorite. Simply roasting them, like you did here, is such a great way to enhance their flavor. In fact, I just had some topped with bread crumbs and roasted last night. It's a great side dish.
    Pasta alla Norma is a great pasta and I can't wait to see how you prepare it.

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    1. Hi Chicago John, roasting is maybe my favorite way to cook eggplant. A bread crumb topping sounds great! Thanks for your comment.

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  6. I love roasted eggplant and I really love baba ghanoush. Perfect post!

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    1. Hi Maureen, I'm liking both those dishes! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I love eggplant and roasting it is the easist way to prepare it and get great results. Yours looks picture perfect as always. Now you've made me hungry for some.

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    1. Hi Vicki, isn't this a great way to prepare eggplant? Totally love it. And I always enjoy making you hungry. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  8. I have never eaten egg plant before. Your method makes it sound easy to make and delicious to eat.

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    1. Hi Words of Deliciousness, you have to try it! Roast one and you'll wonder why you've been missing out all these years. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  9. I got very sidetracked by your reference to your Marina's blog--have I mentioned how much I love the personality and personableness (not a word) of your blog and interactions with others? This is fantastic stuff. I will be roasting yet another eggplant soon, can't wait to put your tips to the test!

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    1. Hi wallflourgirl, I hope my tips are useful for you! Thanks for a very kind and thoughtful comment.

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  10. This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing this. I absolutely adore eggplant as well but never cook it because of those two reasons you listed! And I hate using so much oil to include it in my dishes. This looks delicious and easy and I can't wait to try it!

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    1. Hi Christine, those two reasons stood in the way of me cooking eggplant for a long time, too. But roasting removes those obstacles! Really a good way of cooking this veggie - hope it works for you, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Thanks for this. I am one of the people who always salt and fry eggplant. But I have noticed in the restaurants here in Italy that they are serving eggplant which is not soggy so I am guessing they roast it.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, they may indeed be roasting it. If you use a ton of oil when roasting you can still end up with soggy eggplant, but if you use just enough to slick the sides, they firm up pretty well. Gosh, I envy you on your trip to Italy! I've been enjoying reading your posts about it on your blog. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. I love roasting eggplants specially in barbecue grill, the smell is just fantastic

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    1. Hi Raymund, grilling eggplant on the BBQ introduced me to the great flavors that are produced when you expose eggplant to searing high heat. But nowadays I usually roast in the oven because it's a bit easier to control. Thanks for your comment.

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  13. Really can't go wrong with roasted eggplant... yum.

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    1. Hi Tania, isn't this a great way to prepare eggplant? It's almost like a whole new vegetable. Thanks for your comment.

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  14. I love eggplants and roasting is a great way to enjoy this beautiful vegetable. You are right. If you saute or fry eggplants it absolve all the oil and gets soggy and greasy. Steaming eggplant is a Korean way of enjoying it and it is fabulous, too.

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    1. Hi Holly, I definitely need to try steaming eggplant. I don't know why I haven't - I steam so many vegetables - but it never occurred to me to try it with eggplant. Thanks for your comment.

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  15. I love eggplants and often roast them instead of frying. It really brings out the flavor of this delicious vegetable!

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    1. Hi Asmita, isn't eggplant so good when prepared this way? More flavorful than frying, I think - you get to taste the eggplant rather than the oil. Thanks for your comment.

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  16. Quick and easy eggplant recipe? Count me in! This looks fantastic! (I can't believe I haven't made anything with eggplant in so long. Boo me)

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    1. Hi Cathleen, boo you! ;-) I mainly cook eggplant in later summer and early fall when it's so plentiful. But you can always find it in the markets and it's usually of good quality - I need to use it more. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Hi John - thanks so much for stopping by my blog, and commenting. I agree that roasting eggplant takes care of some of the objectionable qualities. We also like it grilled - so tasty! have a great day :)

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    1. Hi Donalyn, roasting and grilling are the two best ways to prepare eggplant, IMO. Although a couple of people in their comments have said steaming really is excellent too - I need to try that. Thanks for your comment.

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  18. Replies
    1. Hi everydaymaven, thanks so much for those kind words, and for commenting.

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  19. What great tips for roasting eggplant. The hubby is not a fan, so I rarely use this veggie, but I think I'll add some just for me to my next pan of roasted vegetables :) Thanks!

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    1. Hi Lizzy, adding eggplant to a pan of mixed roasted veggies is a great idea! That way both you and your husband get to eat what you prefer. Thanks for the comment.

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  20. This is so simple yet sounds so delicious = sometimes simple is truly the best!

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    1. Hi Café Sucré Farine, it really is simple - and the best! Really tasty stuff. Thanks for your comment.

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  21. Eggplant is one of my favorite veggies...I wish my husband would eat it! I always buy a whole one for myself, and that is a challenge to eat it all before it goes bad. I am looking for new eggplant recipes to try, maybe I can get him to eat it! Yours looks fantastic.

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    1. Hi Kristi, he may well like it roasted, particularly if you get a bit of char on it. I know a lot of people who don't like eggplant but will eat it when it's grilled. Roasting has a slightly different flavor, but just slightly. Thanks for your comment.

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  22. Dude I totally gotta try this recipe. This is gorgeous. I don't usually like eggplant much but maybe I just need to cook it better.

    I realize most of my comments make it seem like I'm a surfer who never learned grammar. I'm really not. Lol!

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    1. Hi Kim, ya gotta try it! ;-) It's funny the habits we get into when we comment on blogs - I know in my case I shorten sentences to the point where I'll leave out some words, figuring the meaning is clear. And I'm sure it sometimes isn't. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  23. I love eggplant but my husband was never a fan because of the way his mother cooked it - like you say, soggy and lacking in flavour. I think roasting eggplants is definitely the way to go xx

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    1. Hi Hotly Spiced, roasting eggplant really improves its flavor, IMO. It's more concentrated, and you can also add spices to make it more interesting (I think cumin and eggplant is a great combo). Thanks for your comment.

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  24. This is my favorite way to prepare eggplant! I grew a bunch in my garden this year but they were all seeds :(

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    1. Hi Julie, bummer about the seeds! I wonder if they got too little (or too much) water? Whenever something doesn't grow the way I think it should, that's always my excuse! Thanks for your comment.

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  25. It is so good to be back and you have just posted one of my favorite vegetables. In addition not only do I love roasted eggplant, I had a stuffed roasted eggplant dish with an Italian sauce that was baked while in I was in Bologna, Italy and I can't wait to try to recreate this in Bam's Kitchen. I have booked marked your page as I will need to reference your hints while I am in my test kitchen. Have a super day. Take Care, bAM

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    1. Hi Bam, sounds like you had a great time in Europe. Can't wait to see your stuffed roast eggplant dish! Thanks for the comment.

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  26. Simple and beautiful. I love eggplant and it's one of my top 5 veggies that I cannot live without. I use eggplant for cooking but I actually have never roasted before... I must give this a try because it's so easy and your eggplant is very tempting!!

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    1. Hi Nami, isn't eggplant wonderful? This tastes great roasted, and it's so easy. I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Well this is crazy - I roast eggplant for other dishes like Baba ghanoush or fritters, but I've never just eaten roasted eggplant. Silly me! What a good looking dish and so simple and smart! Thanks for showing me what's possible! :) BTW - I just posted some pics of the new kitchen! WooHoo!

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    1. Hi MJ, roast eggplant is great just plain. Add salt and pepper, of course, and maybe another herb or spice - it's fantastic stuff. Thanks for the news about your kitchen - I'll be right over to your blog to see the pictures! Thanks for commenting.

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  28. Roasted or grilled are my fave ways to enjoy eggplant. They get so smoky and caramelized, they are irresistible, even to folks who don't think they like eggplant.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, anything roasted is so good. And you're right that people who don't like eggplant, all of a sudden find out it's their favorite vegetable once they taste it roasted or grilled. Thanks for your comment.

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  29. Hi John, aww, it is so sweet of you to link my recipe to your post! Thank you very much. :) I love eggplants prepared in many different ways, it is an amazing dish and I didn't know it wasn't popular here. I learn something new each time I visit your blog! :)

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    1. Hi Marina, I'm happy to do so! There's more than one way to do things, and your recipes for eggplant fries is another great way to roast eggplant. Thanks for your comment.

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  30. My mom and I adore eggplant so I can't wait to try your recipe out soon!

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    1. Hi Squishy Monster, eggplant is such good stuff! I hope you and your mom enjoy the recipe. Thanks for your comment.

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    1. Hi realitaliandish, totally delish! Such great flavor. Thanks for your comment.

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  32. I've never been a fan of eggplant because of it's bitterness, but I have been eating it a bit more in the past year or so....just in tiny bite-sized pieces in ratatouille or with a pasta dish. I have never roasted it, but I may have to try!

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    1. Hi Ali, both roasting and grilling eggplant is a wonderful way to cook it if you're ambivalent about the flavor. The high heat intensifies all the good stuff, and evaporates some of the liquid that carries the bitterness. Win win! It's worth trying, IMO. Thanks for your comment.

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  33. Aubergines are slight bitter? I hadn't realized that yet...
    I dont like that either when they r soaked with oil, but my husband loves it cooked that way. I will try out the salt tip, to see how much oil gets absorbed.

    That post just reminded me of a person I met in Switzerland ones. He has a Eggplant tattoo on his arm. I asked him why aubergine and his answer was because its so pretty. ^.^ The purple does look attractive, right?

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    1. Hi Helene, they can be a bit bitter, although I honestly have rarely experienced that. I think older versions must have suffered more from this - the eggplants most growers market today appear to have had most of the bitterness breed out of them. Fun story about the tattoo! Eggplants really are pretty - love that purple. Thanks for your comment.

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  34. Eggplant are my second best friend... I always have them in fudge... roast them and then the possibilities are endless...
    This is indeed a great way to enjoy eggplant.. Nice Post!!

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    1. Hi Reem, don't eggplants have such nice flavor? And you're right - if you have them on hand in roasted form, you can transform them into so many different things. Thanks for your comment.

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  35. I meant Fridge Not Fudge.... Typo..LOL

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    1. Hi Reem, I totally understand this typo - fudge is never far from my mind, either! ;-)

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  36. Replies
    1. Hi Jay, this is really a flavorful veggie when done this way. Really good stuff. Thanks for your comment.

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  37. I absolutely love eggplant. especially when roasted! the subtle taste of herbs is just perfect.

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    1. Hi Baker Street, the different ways you can flavor roast eggplant (or almost anything) with different herbs makes it so much fun! I never get bored with it. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Funny that, I just bought a big eggplant and my boyfriend asked me 'what are you going to do with that?' and I replied 'roast it'. And here you are with a roast eggplant recipe! Great minds think alike. ;)

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    1. Hi Jenny, great minds indeed! ;-) Roasting is such a great way to prepare eggplant. It's great as is, or you can use it in so many other great recipes. Thanks for your comment.

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  39. I love eggplant!! Never cook it enough! Thank you for the recipe!

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    1. Hi Jess, I don't cook eggplant enough, either! And with roasting so easy, there's no excuse. Thanks for the comment.

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  40. I love roasted eggplant and don't eat it enough ... Should probably pick some up today :-)

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    1. Hi CJ, picking up some today sounds like an excellent idea! ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  41. My kids won't touch any kind of eggplant dish (sigh - kids) but my wife and I just love roasted eggplants and a special pair for grilled or fried fish or pork chops. These eggplants are perfectly done, John! Thank you for the share. :)

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    1. Hi Ray, when I was a kid I didn't much like it either. Silly me! Your kids will be chagrined, when they grow older, to learn how much really good stuff they missed! Thanks for your comment.

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  42. I love roasting eggplant - it makes a wonderful base for so many dishes! You manage to make it look quite beautiful as well, which is no small feat.

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    1. Hi Katherine, isn't roast eggplant nice? Once you have it, you can take it in so many directions. And of course it's wonderful as is! Thanks for the comment and the kind words - you're right about eggplant being a challenge to photograph!

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  43. Oh how I love eggplant - especially roasted. I recently made eggplant rolls stuffed with ricotta and olive and baked in tomato sauce. It is just so versatile.

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    1. Hi Amanda, isn't eggplant such fun to work with? Versatile, as you say - so much you can do with it. Your eggplant rolls sound wonderful! Thanks for the comment.

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