There was a time when the closest I would get to an eggplant was at an Italian restaurant when rounds of it would be coated with a thick layer of breading and fried to crispness, then smothered in rich tomato sauce and lots of cheese. But even at that, I’d still run across some very distasteful eggplant.
Oh, I’ve come a long way since those days. I’ve discovered fresh, locally grown eggplant.
I’ve found there are many varieties of eggplant, from basic globe eggplant to long thin Japanese eggplant to tiny Fairy Tale eggplants. Skin colors vary from white, to deep or light purple to striped or variegted. They can be small, round, long, slender, plump or pear shaped. While some eggplants are more tender, some have thinner skins, and some cook more quickly, none hold their shape very well during cooking and all have mild flavor. They all seem to turn delicious when they are roasted or grilled, baked or sauteed.
One of the farmers at the market told me about an eggplant spread she liked to make. Apparently roasted eggplant pureed with walnuts, garlic and ginger tasted good, but it didn’t look very pretty.
Eggplant and Sweet Pepper Jam begins with eggplant that is roasted to tenderness at a high temperature. Once the eggplant is cool enough to touch, it can easily be cut into small cubes. Those little cubes get all jumbled up with sauteed onion, garlic, sweet bell pepper, fresh tomato and parsley, and as it cooks together it becomes thick like jam. And a little bit sweet, like jam.
Eggplant and Red Pepper Jam can be scooped up as is with tortilla chips or pita chips. My favorite way to enjoy the flavorful jam is with a smear of goat cheese on a slice of toasted baguette. If you don’t care for the tart flavor of goat cheese, mix it with cream cheese half and half to tone it down. Or, use only cream cheese.
The jam tastes best if it has had several hours in the refrigerator, allowing the flavors to develop.
Eggplant in this form tastes wonderful. And it’s pretty, too. Sweet.
Eggplant and Sweet Pepper Jam
- 1 eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for rubbing on eggplant
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 4 chubby cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped
- 1 large tomato, seeds removed, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- Crostini or pita chips for serving
- Goat cheese for serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pour some olive oil into the palm of your hand. Rub hands together and then rub the olive oil onto the eggplant. Place prepared eggplant on baking sheet lined with silpat (silicone baking mat) or aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until eggplant is tender when poked with a sharp knife. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Cut into small cubes and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until just beginning to turn golden. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Stir in red pepper and saute for another 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggplant, tomato, salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Vegetables should be very soft and mixture should be thick. Add the vinegar and blend well. Mixture should be consistency of jam. Add the capers and parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 2 days. Before serving, stir in pine nuts. Serve with crostini or pita chips and goat cheese.