Rise of the Eggplant (not the emoji kind)

Italian eggplant from my gardenI am usually grateful one of my husband’s favorite hobbies is growing new and interesting foods in our garden, like heirloom tomatoes and peppers. We found these great Italian eggplant seeds a few years ago, and the eggplants that grew were so cute, flavorful and delicious we couldn’t believe it.

Last year we didn’t grow enough, so this year of course we planted more. A lot more. So much more that we just picked eight, and at least eight more are coming in a few days. That’s a lot of eggplant looking me in the face.

What do you do when your eggplant crop explodes (eggplant emoji jokes aside)? Now I like eggplant, but this is a lot, even for me. And eggplant isn’t exactly the kind of vegetable you can deliver to the neighbors. Try it, you will quickly become that crazy neighbor with the eggplants. Tomatoes are always welcome, zucchini are tolerated, but eggplants are just plain awkward.

I have two solutions so that my eggplants don’t go to waste. Because if you can’t stand to waste food from the store, food from the garden is even harder to see go down the drain (or the compost bin).  One is ratatouille, super healthy and even the star of its own movie. Yes, a movie star is cooking in my kitchen right now. The other is more indulgent – eggplant layered with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese, with a breadcrumb Parmesan topping.

bowl of ratatouilleYou can probably guess that we will start with the ratatouille. 🙂 The slow cooker is making dinner without heating up my kitchen, which is awesome. This recipe looks like a lot of work but really it only takes a few minutes of chopping.

Here’s how to make it:

Ratatouille in the Slow Cooker

2 large onions, chopped

2-3 eggplants, chopped into 1” pieces

3 zucchini, chopped into 1” pieces

3 bell peppers, chopped into 1” pieces

4-5 tomatoes, chopped roughly

4 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed

2 Tbs. tomato paste

1Tbs. anchovy paste, or 3 anchovies

4 Tbs. olive oil

red pepper flakes to taste

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried or 1Tbs fresh thyme

1 Tbs. fresh basil

Salt and pepper

  1. You will want to skip this step, but don’t. It only takes a few minutes and really elevates the dish. Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet, and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are golden brown and soft, then add the tomato and anchovy pastes (or anchovies), a good pinch of red pepper flakes and the herbs. Cook for a few minutes all together.
  2. While the onions are cooking chop the veggies and put them into the slow cooker. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  3. Add onion mixture to slow cooker and stir to coat the veggies with the onions.
  4. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 5-6 hours. If its too soupy when finished, cook an additional 30 minutes with the lid off. Or you can have the lid a little askew while cooking so some steam can escape.
  5. Top with the basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Red wine or balsamic vinegar adds a nice touch too.

This is so easy and really good. You can serve it with a simple salad and a piece of crusty bread, or with grilled fish or chicken. Leftovers can be frozen, and while the texture won’t be quite as good, a meal you only have to reheat is too good to be picky about the texture. You could always thaw it, blend it and make it a pasta sauce.

As for the indulgent eggplant gratin, you’ll have to check back next week.

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