This was the summer of roasted eggplant in my kitchen. I grow eggplant every year, but have never been able to say it reached bumper crop proportions. This time was different. I (almost) had more eggplant than I knew what to do with. And what did I do with it? I made it exactly the same way each time I picked it from my garden. That may sound boring to many of you, but we just couldn't get enough of the roasted eggplant. And when I had visitors from out of town, or friends and family over for dinner, I knew that it wasn't just me loving my pasta tossed with roasted eggplant and onions plus fresh, homemade ricotta stirred into the mix. The recipe was requested by everyone who has eaten it; and making it couldn't be easier.
I was raised on eggplant. My mother grew classic eggplant in her garden and like me, prepared it only one way. She sliced the eggplant thinly, dipped the slices in beaten eggs and cracker crumbs, and followed by frying in vegetable oil. I could be wrong... but I don't remember anything else on the dinner table those nights. My mother just kept filling our plates with the freshly-made, hot fried eggplant, and we devoured it.
For many years I just roasted my cubed eggplant with onions and fresh thyme, then tossed with hot pasta, a dousing of extra-virgin olive oil and topped it all with grated Parmigiano- Reggiano. That was it, and it was good. But this has also been the summer of homemade fresh ricotta. That addition is what changed everything... along with a hefty drizzle of a good quality balsamic, as suggested by friend and blogger Stacey Snacks.
Last night I changed it up a bit. Instead of tossing the eggplant and onions with pasta, I topped a pizza on the grill with the vegetables and ricotta. I also changed the way I usually make my pizza dough (recipe HERE), which resulted in the best grilled pizza I have ever made. I'm hoping for some decent weather down the road so I can continue to experiment with the grilling of the dough. First of all, I forgot to add a bit of honey to the proofing yeast, although I don't know if that made a difference. Sugar is often added to yeast and water to help the process along. I also --always-- refrigerate the balls of dough for a time until I begin the pizzas, usually later in the day. This time, I took the room temperature, beautifully soft yeast dough, instead of refrigerating it, and immediately began stretching into a round, then tossed it onto the hot, gas grill. It was over the top perfect. My husband kept describing it as pastry. There was no bready doughiness. It was delicate, crisp, and shattered like the leaves of puff pastry in a croissant... spectacular. However you use the roasted eggplant, though, I can guarantee you'll love it also.
+ The ingredients below are approximate. Feel free to mix it up the way you like it. I use enough fresh-cubed eggplant to totally cover a large baking sheet with 1-inch sides. And don't be stingy with the extra-virgin olive oil!
• 1/2 - 3/4 pound fresh ricotta, purchased or homemade (recipe HERE)
• 3-4 smaller classic eggplant or 6 Japanese eggplant (see above), peeled if using Classic Eggplant, and cut into 1-inch cubes
• 1 very large yellow onion cut into 1-inch wedges, and wedges kept intact
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher or sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
• Fresh thyme sprigs
• Good quality balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with enough olive oil to lightly coat and a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt. Spread the eggplant in a single layer onto a baking sheet with 1-inch sides and transfer to oven. Roast eggplant, tossing occasionally, until it begins to soften. Place the onion wedges in the bowl and drizzle with olive oil to lightly coat; sprinkle with salt. Add the onions, along with any of the oil remaining in the bowl, to the eggplant. If the mixture seems dry, drizzle with additional oil. Continue to roast the eggplant and onions, gently tossing often for even caramelization. Once the onions are added, watch closely. I like the onions soft with a bit of color. Avoid burning the onions or they will become bitter. Keeping the wedges intact as much as possible during roasting helps with that. Right at the end you can start breaking up the onion into pieces. I never watch the clock when making this. Individual ovens make differently. I prefer a gentle roast at 375˚, tossing often, and watching closely to avoid any burn.
2. When roasted to your liking, remove from oven and transfer to a large mixing. Add a good drizzle of the balsamic and leaves from the fresh thyme sprigs; adjust salt and add freshly-ground pepper to taste. Gently stir in as much fresh ricotta as you like. My feeling is, there can never be too much. Toss mixture with hot pasta (adding a little more olive oil if needed), use on pizza, or top crostini. It's endless...
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