You can steam eggplants, or eat them fried, stir-fried, boiled, sauteed or cooked in the microwave. If you’re feeling creative, stuff ’em. I like to bake mine.
Like its cousin the tomato, the eggplant has edible thin skin, so peeling is your choice. If you leave the skin on, you add colour and interest. Peeling off the skin gives you a smoother texture. It’s essentially a bland vegetable, but that fundamental blandness is a perfect foil for more assertive ingredients.
To avoid any hint of a bitter taste, slice, salt and then rinse. Eggplants can soak up large amounts of cooking fats and oils but the salting process will reduce the amount absorbed.
Originally introduced into Sicily by the Arabs, eggplants are to be found in numerous different forms in local specialities, most famously as an essential part of caponata and pasta alla Norma.
Melenzana also has an interesting etymological background which dates back to old Spain, to the times of Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Castille and Aragon.
In 1492, Sicily was part of the Spanish kingdom and, as in all Spanish territories, Jews were forced to leave. Sicilian Jews left their homes and many headed for Rome, taking with them their beloved eggplants.
The Romans, meanwhile, greatly suspicious of this new black/violet vegetable, named it mela insana – apple of insanity.
The name stuck and eggplant in Italian is now “melanzana”.
Well, it’s a good story anyway.