Friday, September 18, 2009

still life with plastic wrapper

"You seem obsessed lately with photographing produce," says Eldest. Just one more bit of evidence that her mother is heading into the long decline of senility.

"Yes," I say. "Could you scootch back that way? You're blocking the light."

I am obsessed.

But this is nothing new. I don't think she realizes that I've been buying eggplant for years - not because they looked especially toothsome to me - but because I can't resist their waxy smoothness and their sleek reflective depths.

I'm just more obvious about my ardor these days.

She doesn't realize that those years past when I've left eggplant on the cupboard to gradually shrivel and lose its lustre, it hasn't been merely procrastination. I feel no more sense of waste when I finally toss an etiolated eggplant on the compost pile than I feel about the bouquet of dried-up flowers composting beside them.

Something so beautiful doesn't have to be eaten in order to serve its proper purpose.

Well. . . almost no more sense of waste.

I am the (great-great- . . . grand)daughter of Puritans after all.

In years past, when nigglings of conscience have refused to buy Beauty as Its Own Reward, I have despaired of ever rendering my beautiful eggplants edible. To no avail salting and setting to drain. Adding this. Cooking with that.

Until last year I learned the sure-fire, never-fail method.

Choose an eggplant that has never been refrigerated.

That's it.

Now I often dispense with the salting and setting to drain because there are no bitter juices to drain away.

Last week I made ratatouille (à la Alice Waters, whose basic recipe in Chez Panisse Vegetables varies hardly at all from the other recipes I've found) ignoring Eldest's, Middlest's and YoungSon's cries, "Eggplant! I hate eggplant!" Knowing they only think they hate it. Because they remember all my failed attempts of years past.

Eggplant with all her friends
But last year they loved it.
And this year?

"I was wrong. I do like this!"

"I think it's like . . . lasagna!" because I served it with a thick rustic pasta and crumbled feta.

"I'm going to pack some in my lunch for tomorrow, okay?"

Last year about this same time I made eggplant in Italian tomato sauce with mushrooms.  Total success.

And today - guess what's bubbling away in the crockpot?

It smells divine and YoungSon and I snacked on the bits of eggplant flesh that stuck to the roasting sheet this morning before I took him to school. "They're like potato chips!"

Of course, every eggplant you buy in the grocery store has been kept in cold storage before being set out to tempt your eye. So it will be bitter.

But right now 'tis the season when eggplants ripen in the last long sun of our warm season.

And what better excuse do you need than that to find and frequent the farmer's market nearest you?


Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I had never thought about buying them for their beauty, but you are so right, what's the difference between a bouquet and a beautiful piece of food?

The deep lustre, reflection...yes, you describe so well.

Mrs. Organic said...

Last year I grew an eggplant that looked like a mittened hand - I loved it, but couldn't bring myself to eat it. I'll have to give eggplant another chance.

It's salsa time and tomato soup base time. I hate canning tomatoes, but I do enjoy eating them up in the winter.

Lisa B. said...

Another place I found my way to liking eggplant was in the recipes in Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, which I bet you have perused. There's a recipe for an amazing spread with Thai basil.

And also? because I am the evangelist of roasted tomatoes, I'm just going to go ahead and preach the gospel: a roasted-and-frozen tomato is so much better than a canned one! Take off their skins, quarter them, douse in olive oil, put in some peeled garlic cloves and some basil, salt and pepper, roast at 375 degrees till a bit caramelized and most of the water has evaporated. Cool and put in freezer bags. This tastes like summer all over again when you use them for sauces or soup in the winter.

Beautiful purple pictures. And I had never thought about the refrigeration. See? you're so educational!

Mrs. Organic said...

Those sound divine!

Emma J said...

Mrs. O - love your mittened eggplant and I am trying to quell my jealousy - even tomatoes have a hard time ripening here without a greenhouse.

Lisa B. - Veg for Everyone sounds like a book I need to look up. I don't can tomatoes (re: ripening issues above) because I never have them in gargantuan amounts. I do make a jar or two of tomato paste balls to carry me through the year - BUT this roasted tomato sounds so good I'm going to have to buy an extra box of tommies just to try it out - best with paste tomatoes or slicers? Or just anything that tastes great?

Lisa B. said...

I get regular old hybrid tomatoes from a little brotherhood of potheads at the farmer's market here, because they're cheap, and because you roast till the juice is mostly gone. I would not buy expensive tomatoes, like heirlooms. These, in my mind, are to eat until the season is gone, as many as you can. Get ripe and cheap. I think it would work with paste tomatoes, but I generally have used slicers (see above--ripe & cheap).

Jenny said...

Just read your comments on my blog from a few weeks ago, busy, busy. Sorry. Yes, I used coupons, I love it and I save so much money. I am actually an instructor and teach people how to do the same thing! Hope all is going well.

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