It started with the first new potatoes of the season a few weeks ago. Then the first outdoor grown tomatoes emerged, primarily the cherry tomatoes, which tend to mature faster on the plants than their larger counterparts.
This week, I encountered the first fresh peppers and eggplant of the season, another indicator that summer is just around the corner. While these four types of produce are seemingly quite different, one thing that they do have in common is that they are all members of the nightshade family.
The nightshade is a diverse family of flowering plants that encompasses an array of herbs, shrubs, vines, trees, spices, weeds, ornamentals and edible agricultural crops, such as those previously mentioned.
Some members of this family can be quite toxic when consumed. But others are a culinary staple that is not only safe to consume, but are quite beneficial to our dietary needs.
This week I focused on the stunning Chinese eggplant found at the Saturday Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market from Her Family Farm.
Eggplant is a fruit that I’ve become quite fond of over the years.
It’s one that tends to be an acquired taste for many due to its unusual flavor and unique texture. It’s less meaty than the giant globe eggplant used for traditional dishes such as eggplant Parmesan or baba ganoush.
I find the Chinese eggplant variety best in stir-fry’s, diced and added to pasta sauces, or in curry-coconut milk style preparations. This week I made a roasted eggplant bruschetta salad, taking advantage of the arrival of fresh basil, tomato and garlic.
Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta Salad
2 Chinese eggplant
6 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
7-8 large Italian basil leaves, finely chopped
6 Roma style tomatoes, cut into rounds, or diced
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Discard ends of eggplant and quarter in lengthwise sections. Then cut into half-inch pieces. Toss with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place in a single layer on a baking sheet skin side down and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
In a mixing bowl combine garlic, about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and tomatoes.
Season liberally with salt and pepper and gently toss.
Then mix in your roasted eggplant. Serve as a chilled side salad, pairing really nicely with roasted chicken or fish preparations.