Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cooking With Whole Foods: Eggplant

Rachael's making another Bloom appearance (yay!) to teach us a few things about cooking with eggplant. And, of course, sharing yummy recipes, too! Thanks for being here, Rach...

As my family was finalizing Christmas plans this year, my youngest sister remarked that
she was so excited to see everyone, she was even looking forward to “Rachael sneaking
eggplant into everything possible!” I had to chuckle, because I really do love eggplant.
It’s great cooked down into ratatouille, or roasted and pureed into baba ganoush, or as
part of a late summer gratin, but my very favorite way to eat eggplant is grilled on a
pizza. Eggplant is a great candidate for grilling, because it turns soft and deliciously
moist. (I also love to serve it in panini).

Eggplant is very easy to grow, for all of you planning your summer gardens, but if you’re
buying it, look for firm-skinned eggplant that are heavy for their size. Larger eggplant
will generally have more developed seeds, so don’t go for the Goliaths. Overly wrinkled/
shriveled skin indicates an elderly eggplant that doesn’t need to go home with you today.

To grill the eggplant, cut it into even slices about ¼ inch thick. Brush both sides liberally
with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (the salt really brings out the flavor, but don’t
overdo it!), and grill on a panini press or George Foreman-style grill for 4-5 minutes.
Theoretically you can do this on a BBQ grill as well, but I always, always burn it, so I
stick to the appliances. This same technique also works beautifully for grilling slices of
zucchini (also a great pizza topping or sandwich filler). Eggplant will soak up much
more oil than zucchini, so prep the eggplant just before it goes on the grill, or it will
absorb the oil too quickly. I get the best coverage by using the spray can of olive oil
rather than a pastry brush.

My favorite eggplant-including pizza combo is a dough featured in Martha Stewart
Living a year or two ago (it is honestly the best crust I’ve ever made, and I’ve tried many
a recipe!), plus basil pesto, shredded Parmesan, red onion rings, and the eggplant itself
(or zucchini for those who dislike eggplant, such as my children). Black olives are a fun
addition as well. In summer, I add big slices of heirloom tomato.


Pizzeria Bianco Dough (makes 4 12-inch pizzas)
2 1/4 t. active dry yeast
2 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
5 to 5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, for greasing bowl

Dissolve yeast in warm water, let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 3 c. flour and the salt,
stirring until smooth. Stir in additional 2 c. flour, adding flour (up to 1/2 c.) 1 T. at a
time, stirring until dough comes away from bowl but is still sticky (I use my KitchenAid
stand mixer for all this). Continue to knead, by hand or in a mixer, until dough is
smooth, elastic, and soft, but still a little tacky, about 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in
a mixer.

Shape dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover with
plastic, let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume (2-3 hours; when pressed with
finger the indent should remain).

Place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 500. Scrape dough out of bowl onto floured
surface, cut into 4 pieces, and shape into balls. Dust with flour, and cover with plastic.
Let rest 20-30 minutes until dough relaxes and almost doubles. (Note: you can let the
dough rest in the ‘fridge for a few hours rather than 30 minutes on the counter, making
this a viable after-church meal). Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper to the size of your stone.

Holding top edge of 1 dough ball in both hands, let bottom edge touch work surface.
Carefully move hands around edge to form a circle, as if turning a wheel. Hold dough on
back of your hand, letting its weight stretch into a 12-inch round (my husband likes to
toss it; I can’t do that without tearing it).

Transfer dough to parchment paper. Arrange toppings, then transfer the dough and paper
to the hot stone. Bake pizza for 12 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden brown;
remove from oven with peel and serve hot!

Basil Pesto

1/4 c. olive oil (or cooking oil)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnut, almonds, or pine nuts)
2 c. firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
1/4 t. salt
black pepper

If using a food processor, combine oil, nuts, basil, cheese, garlic, pepper and salt,
processing until nearly smooth. If you're using a blender, it will be easiest to first chop
the basil and nuts before adding them to the mixture.

I like to make huge batches all summer and freeze individual portions for winter use.


Steph at said...

That's amazing how you made me want basil pesto at 9:30 in the morning :)

Meghan said...

I love eggplant. Sometimes I'll grill it as you describe, then just eat a plate of it sprinkled with feta. It's great in stews, and roasted and chopped as a fresh dip with cilantro, onions, lemon, red wine vinegar and dark rye bread.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm definitely going to try out your tips. I always enjoy when Rachael posts. Thanks!