This is a happy ending tale of how an impulsive food purchase can spark creativity. I try to be sensible when I shop and not let my food purchases go to waste. On the other hand, I don’t always know how I am going to use a fruit or vegetable that looks too good to pass up. After all, there has to be some spontaneity in the kitchen (as well as in other parts of our lives), no?
Recently, I found the cutest eggplants ever at the farmers’ market. Rarely has produce “called out to me” like these eggplants did. (Jewelry and shoes call out to me all the time from store windows.) Like most of my impulse purchases, they became an obsession, as I tried to figure out how best to use a bagful of the tiny white, light purple, and dark purple gems.
The eggplants languished in the refrigerator for a few days, until mid-week. Then, with dinnertime fast approached one evening, I suddenly had a brainstorm - roasted eggplants.
Normally I would have looked up their individual “profiles” and figured out how to best bring out the flavor and texture of each type of tiny eggplant. If I had consulted my favorite vegetable expert, Elizabeth Schneider, in her wonderful and comprehensive guide “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini”, I would have discovered an amazing set of pictures and facts about eggplant varieties, recipes and advice I had already unknowingly violated about not storing them for more than 36 hours.
But in a rush to get dinner on the table, I decided to treat them all the same. With no recipe or experience roasting small eggplants, I did know (from roasting large eggplants whole) that they would soften as they roasted, but the skin would hold them together. I decided to do slices and figured that all I had to do was oil them to prevent discoloration and drying out during roasting.
After pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees and oiling a cookie sheet, I cut the slices, brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled on salt and pepper and roasted them for about 15 minutes.
I then turned the slices over, brushed them lightly with oil on the other side, and roasted for another 10-15 minutes. Less than a half hour later, as the slices cooled, I was faced with another decision – how to use the delicate slices?
They were thin and soft, but still held their shape. So, I decided on a room temperature composed salad (a salad with ingredients placed together, rather than tossed) because they would look nice that way and yet be easy to cut with a fork. I used salad ingredients on hand: herbs from the deck, farmers” market tomatoes, and leftover cooked potatoes (a refrigerator find from “treasure hunting”.) I alternated slices of eggplant, potato and tomato, and topped the plate off with snippets of chives, salt and pepper. The salad was delightful. Served with leftover roast chicken and good bread, the salad was just right for a summer evening. My cooking experiments are not always successful – but this one was.