Berenjena, melanzana, aubergine—the world’s names for the eggplant are as gorgeously curvaceous as the veggie itself in all its bruise-hued heft & pulp, rich & soft. Of course, that the American English word constitutes a pun on female fertility only enhances one’s sense of its sensuousness. So to say it’s my favorite veggie doesn’t cut it—it’s the veggie I’ve long been most inspired by, have long aspired most to somehow resemble, embody.
Which is why I’ll try anything it’s in, even this.
a little too smooth on top of that, & all too sickly in its sweetness, being heavy on tomatoes & carrots as well as eggplant. I’ll be skipping the ikra henceforth & sticking with the malidjano.
I’ll also be returning, as I always do, to my favorite eggplant dishes from around the globe—Punjabi baigan bharta (plump purple thumbs up to India’s Pearl’s version), Szechuan Yu Hsiang eggplant, Sicilian caponata, also Sicilian chocolate eggplant, Turkish imam bayildi, Georgian eggplant salad with walnuts & pomegranate seeds, Greek moussaka, obviously Middle Eastern baba ghanoush,*** etc. etc., as well as to my favorite eggplant dish from mine own little world: behold the ugly, crap-splattered eggplant casserole.
It all started with a recipe I came across several years back from, if I recall correctly, Cooking Light, but don’t quote me on that, which I’ll provide here & either get slapped with something legal or other or not:
Horseradish Cheese Bake
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 30 min.
1 1/2 cups finely chopped zucchini or yellow squash
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. flake-style imitation crabmeat, lobster or scallops
4 oz. fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese
1 T prepared horseradish
2 T shredded parmigiano-reggiano, plus extra for topping
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. bottled hot pepper sauce
Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly coat 2 1-c. ramekins or 2 10 oz. custard cups & a small skillet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
Heat prepared small skillet over medium heat. Add squash, onion & garlic. Cook & stir for 2-3 min. or until tender. Transfer squash mixture to a bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, plus 1/4 t. pepper Spoon mixture into prepared cups. Sprinkle each with additional cheese, if desired. Place cups on a baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 min. or until tops are golden & mixture is bubbly.
For various reasons that include but aren’t limited to the facts that 1) summer squash proved, at least IMO, too mild & watery to serve as a base for all that other stuff; 2) nothing has ever been served in a ramekin that I couldn’t polish off a whole baking dish of; & 3) while I don’t mind ingesting krabstick now & again, I stop short at purchasing my own stash, I began altering the recipe until it reached its current, barely recognizable form. It has since become a staple in my weight-watching phases, i.e. every other hungover, bloated, self-incriminating week.
Serves 1 as a main dish for a shoveler such as myself (come on, the whole thing’s all of 500 calories), 2 as a main dish for normal people, 3-4 as a side dish for normal people
Prep time: 20 min.
Cooking time: 30 min.
1 unpeeled eggplant, roughly 1 lb., cubed small (diced would be even better if you’ve got the patience)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 can minced clams, drained
4 oz. fat-free cream cheese, cut into small pieces (brick-type) or spooned in small dollops (tub-type)
1 T. chili sauce
1 T. mustard, any type
1 T. prepared horseradish
ca. 1/4 c. shredded low-fat cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, what have you—they all work, being same product, different artificial coloring)
curry powder, cumin, salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a 9x5x3 loaf pan with cooking spray.
In a cooking-sprayed skillet over med-hi heat, saute the eggplant & garlic about 10 min. until soft & cooked through, stirring occasionally & adding Worcestershire sauce midway, when they may start to stick.
Put remaining ingredients in a medium bowl & add the eggplant-garlic mixture; mix well, until cheeses are evenly distributed throughout.
Bake for 20-30 min., until nicely browned on top.
But here’s the kicker, the sweet spot, the-gift-that-keeps-on-giving part: You can substitute real, regular cream cheese & shredded cheese of any type for an even harder rockin’ weeknight casserole or decadent holiday side dish! In fact, you can mess with the recipe in all kinds of ways, just as I did & still do, 1-pot bakes lending themselves with ease to the old switcheroo; if, for instance, you’re not cool with canned clams, try canned tuna (water- or oil-packed, drained) or chopped ham. I’ve never tried fresh shucked clams, suspecting they’d be a little too juicy, but I could suspect wrong. Knock yourself out if you’re so inclined.
***I’ve yet to find fabulous renditions of either Baba G (to use its rapper name) or the aforementioned Szechuan dish here in Denver & am wide open to suggestions.