The first brilliant eggplant experience I had was when I was twenty five years old. A friend came to Philip’s birthday party for which we were making spaghetti and her gift was an eggplant. I’m afraid we weren’t particularly enthusiastic. She took one look at our faces and decided that an eggplant in our hands might be a terrible thing so she marched into our little city kitchen and taught us how to make eggplant that no one could dislike. There was butter and baking involved. True to her word, we became fans of everything eggplant from that moment on.
I don’t cook with butter very often. I prefer olive oil. Either way, the very best eggplant is always cooked with fat. That’s my opinion and no one will budge me from it.
This way of cooking eggplant will yield a very soft somewhat buttery flesh (even though it’s made with olive oil) and renders the skin tender. The garlic bakes until it’s golden, rich, and has a mild nutty flavor. If you like a firm eggplant treatment* you won’t like this. I think it’s sublime put on a slice of good bread with stone-ground brown spicy mustard and a thin slice of mild nutty cheese (such as Fontina). It can also be used to make a great eggplant spread or added to a pasta sauce.
Baked Garlic Eggplant Recipe
4 small round eggplants (or 2 large ones)
1 whole head of garlic (two if the heads are very small)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off of all the eggplants and then cut them in half lengthwise. Using a sharp knife cut slashes into the flesh diagonally- you want to cut down to about 1/2″ from the skin. Don’t cut all the way through. Then cut slashes diagonally in the opposite direction. Put the halves onto a baking sheet.
Peel all the garlic cloves. Leave small cloves whole but cut large ones in half lengthwise. Divide them between all the eggplant halves evenly. Stuff the garlic into the cuts in the eggplant.
Drizzle the olive oil over the eggplant. Use all of it. Grind pepper onto the eggplant halves and sprinkle salt on them.
Bake the eggplant for 40 minutes and then check it. Baking times will depend on the size of your eggplants. Even large ones should be done under an hour. When the garlic and the top of the eggplants have turned golden and the flesh is soft when you press a fork into it, they’re done.
Recipe Notes: You can cook eggplant faster in a hotter oven but you won’t get the melting quality of the flesh that way. I love grilled eggplant but this recipe is about getting a succulence out of the eggplant that grilling (or roasting in a hotter oven) won’t achieve.
*Really? If anyone truly likes a firm eggplant treatment, may I suggest they hightail it to Aberfoyle to the local time-share restaurant on the hill where you can get a plate of salad with raw eggplant in it. I happen to love the Scottish best of all people on earth but I have to say that they do not know the proper treatment of an eggplant. What can you expect of a restaurant that thinks chicken soup is vegetarian? But really, I love Abberfoyle. Nothing could be more charming than the tiny farm store at the bottom of the hill with the surly people in it and the scary dog. I’ve been twice and will go again!