The sun is finally peaking through the clouds here in my part of South Carolina – and that’s a good thing after three relentless days of rain from Hurricane Florence. Many parts of the Carolinas are still under siege from power outages and rising flood waters, and I pray that the waters will recede quickly so that people can return to their homes and start to rebuild.
Because the farmers market was closed this weekend, I have been making do with produce I bought a week or two ago that fortunately was still fresh enough to use. So, we decided to thank the good Lord for Florence’s departure from our area by honoring the end of summer with some ingredients that aren’t going to be available much longer.
While eggplants are available most of the year, I love the baby eggplant I’ve been getting the past month or so at the farmers’ market. Unlike larger eggplants that can be seedy and take an hour or more to roast, the baby eggplants roast quickly in the oven and are sweet and succulent. Believe it or not, I bought all of these eggplants for just $2.00.
This recipe comes together quickly because while the eggplants are roasting, I chopped the tomatoes, raided my drenched garden for the herbs, roasted the pine nuts in a small skillet, and prepped other filling ingredients.
This is also a versatile recipe, and can be vegan – or not – depending on your preference. This was my third or fourth time making it this summer, and I usually stuff half of the eggplants before I add any cheese, and then use cheese in the rest of the filing. I’ve tried manchego, feta, pecorino romano, and chevre – and I’m sure there are other great options I haven’t had on hand! Even if you are not a vegan, I would encourage you to stuff some of the eggplants without cheese and sprinkle on a few more pine nuts for textural contrast.
Instead of serving the stuffed eggplants with pasta, I had a few late summer peaches left and paired them with a lovely burrata from my friend Zack Gadberry at UAV. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese that Zack makes to perfection. It has an outer shell of mozzarella and an inner filling of stracciatella and cream – kind of like a gooey ricotta. It’s like a Caprese salad (which would normally use tomatoes), but instead, I cut up peaches that needed to be eaten, adding a little lemon juice and peach balsamic to my olive oil, garnished with the last of my fresh basil, and served over mixed greens. When the burrata is cut and the fresh stracciatella oozes out, there is nothing quite like it!
Florence’s departure will bring cooler weather and an inevitable change to fall produce at the farmers’ market. I was just so grateful for the sun yesterday that I wanted to celebrate the end of summer.
- 16-20 baby eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- ⅛-1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes, heirloom if possible (yellow, green zebra, red)
- 3 sprigs oregano, small leaves left whole or larger leaves chopped
- 2-3 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- ⅓ -1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a small skillet over medium heat
- Optional cheeses:
- - Manchego, crumbled
- - Pecorino Romano, grated
- - Organic Feta, crumbled
- - Fresh Chevre, crumbled
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil. Brush the cut sides of each eggplant with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place each eggplant half cut side down on the lined baking sheet. Roast the eggplant until the cut side is golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven when the eggplant is done, but keep the oven on.
- While the eggplant is baking, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat and stir in the garlic, cinnamon, and smoked paprika about 30 seconds. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, wine vinegar, and pine nuts. When the eggplant halves are out of the oven and have cooled off a bit, scoop out the cooked eggplant flesh and add to the tomato mixture. (I use a pastry cutter to make sure everything is nicely mixed.) Taste the stuffing mixture and season with a little more salt and pepper, if needed.
- If you’d like this dish to be vegan, just stuff the eggplant shells with the stuffing. But if you enjoy cheese, choose one (or more) of the listed cheeses and add ½ cup to the stuffing mixture. Put each of the baby eggplant shells in either individual baking dishes or a larger baking dish. Stuff the baby eggplant shells with the stuffing mixture, and then sprinkle with a little extra cheese (if you're using cheese) before baking for 5-10 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
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