Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The late Clifford Simak wrote many science fiction novels in which the protagonist lived a quiet life in the rural backwater of some distant future world, often sitting on his porch, fishing, and of course tending his garden. One of the concepts I thought particularly intriguing was that one such garden included a "steak plant" right next to the potatoes and carrots - a plant that produced little steaks hanging from its branches instead of fruit. Obviously genetic engineering was well developed by that time. How nice not to be involved with caging and butchering animals, but simply to go out into the garden and pick a nice steak to go with your vegetables of an evening. (Simak used folksy phrases like "of an evening" a lot.)

Well, we are almost there. Eggplant satisfies a lot of that part of our appetites that yearns for solid meat-type food along with all the greens and starches. It is a staple of many vegetarian dishes and extends others that contain meat. I've been planting the variety "Neon", from Cook's Garden, for several years, after experimenting with other varieties. It has a firm nonbitter flesh and remains at a high quality in the garden for a long time (when it becomes seedy, it obligingly turns a lighter, duller color). While most recipes for eggplant call for salting and pressing to rid it of a bitter flavor, this is never necessary for Neon. I find that my husband, who usually expects meat as a part of dinner, will tolerate the occasional meatless dinner made with eggplant.

We used to visit an Italian restaurant in San Diego (Capriccio) where the Eggplant Parmigiana was so good that we skipped the similar Veal Parmigiana. Unlike most recipes for this dish, the poor eggplant was not breaded, fried, and baked with layers of sauce and cheese, but rather served up straight with the sauce on the side. The result was remarkably meatlike.

Eggplant Parmigiana à la Capriccio

Slice a large fresh peeled eggplant into disks about 1/2 inch thick. If eggplant is not overmature, it should not require salting and pressing and doing so will ruin the character of the dish. Dip the freshly cut slices into flour (they will be very thinly coated), then into a mixture of egg and milk (about 3/4 c milk, beat the egg into it). Then press the eggplant slice into a seasoned bread crumb mixture (try oregano, dash of garlic salt, and paprika). Sauté in olive oil until browned on both sides. Place on cooking sheet and arrange a slice of mozzarella on top. Bake the slices briefly until the mozzarella is puffy. Serve with any good Italian sauce on the side, such as a marinara, basil-tomato-onion-garlic, or a roasted red pepper sauce as shown here.

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