There are still lots of eggplants in the markets here and this year’s crop has been sweet with very few having the usual bitterness one finds in eggplants. Not all eggplants are the same: the usual big purple ones often have some seeds and bitterness and one sprinkles salt on the exposed flesh to draw some out. The Tsakonian and more familiar Japanese eggplants rarely have bitterness and they are usually sweet.
The baby eggplants are also wonderful in that you can count on them being sweet, containing few seeds and they are cook ready. This dish came around as I was looking for an alternative to meat and eggplant is filling, meaty – substantive. Eggplants are a sponge for flavour so I opted to lightly fry them in Greek olive oil. Nevermind the progaganda, you can fry in olive oil…the “low smoke point” that olive oil begins to break down at/around 500F…far above what you need for frying. Ideally I fry between 325 – 365F.
Another reason I used olive oil was to inject some flavour into the eggplant along with some salt, pepper. The eggplants are crisp on the outside, soft and flavourful on the inside. The sweet eggplant is complimented by this spicy tomato sauce, featuring local tomatoes still in season and another Autumn favourite, peppers.
This spicy sauce contains ripe, fresh plum tomatoes passed through a box grater, sweet onions, garlic, sweet red and green peppers and small hot chillis for that kick. Dried Greek oregano, grated Kefalotyri cheese and a final topping of Greek yogurt thinned out with a little vegetable stock complements this zesty, delicious sauce.
Makaronada With Fried Baby Eggplant
For the tomato sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sweet banana pepper, sliced
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1 small chilli pepper, finely chopped
7-8 ripe plum tomatoes, passed through a box grater
pinch of sugar (if needed)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
For the eggplants
4 small eggplants
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying
Greek yogurt sauce
1/2 cup strained Greek yogurt
warm/room temperature vegetable stock
500 gr. package of spaghetti
grated Kefalotyri cheese (Romano cheese is fine)
- Place a large skillet on your stovetop over medium heat and add the olive oil, onions and garlic and sweat for 5-6 minutes. Now add the peppers and stir-in, cooking for another 5 minutes. Now add the grated tomatoes and once a boil returns, reduce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thick. Adjust seasoning, add dried Greek oregano. Reserve/keep warm.
- In the meantime, place a large pot of water on your stovetop and bring to a boil. Season with lots of salt and drop the pasta in the water and cook for 7-8 minutes.
- Pre-heat about 1 1/2 inches of olive oil in a deep pot to reach a temperature of 350F. To slice your eggplant, place the handle end of your wooden spoon parallel to the eggplant and slice down (the wooden handle will prevent you from cutting all the way through).
- Mix salt and pepper into some all-purpose flour and lightly dredge your eggplants and reserve. In the meantime, stir some vegetable stock into your yogurt to transform it into a thick sauce consistency. Reserve.
- Now that your oil is hot, carefully place your eggplants in the hot oil and fry on both side for about 3-4 minutes or until just golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve on paper-lined platter.
- When your pasta is ready, drain and toss some of the sauce in the pasta then divide and plate. Grate some Kefalotyri over the pasta, top with fried eggplant and spoon some yogurt sauce over the eggplant. Sprinkle some more Greek oregano and serve.
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