I've never seen seedier eggplants. I don't know why. Was it the variety we bought? Because we did buy them from a plant nursery as seedlings rather than growing them from seed this year. We didn't have a seed packet to give us information about the type, size, or number of eggplants we could expect to harvest.
Seedy but tasty eggplant slices, oven-roasted
And they were small. Small is not always worse than large, of course. We got small fruit, and a small crop. Blame the weather, I guess. It was very rainy at the beginning of the growing season, for two solid months. Then it was very dry for two months — August and September. Finally, it turned extremely rainy — again — in October. The three-week deluge is just ending now. October has been one of the wettest months in 10 years.
Gratin d'aubergines au fromage et à la sauce tomate
So a few days ago I went out to the garden and harvested all the eggplants at the same time. There must have been 12 to 15 of them — two or three per plant — and as I said they were small. Not long and skinny, but small and plump. They also seemed very hard to the touch, so I was afraid they might not be ripe. Some of them weren't deep purple in color, but kind of a green-tinged blue.
Really, it's not surprising that the eggplants didn't produce prolifically this year. Almost none of the fruit-bearing plants did. We had basically no apples. There were few cherries. No walnuts. The 2012 grape crop is exceedingly small, according to what some of the local vignerons have told me. On the other hand, we did get a few pears, and the neighbors had a tree full of little mirabelle plums. The big exception to the rule was our tomato crop, which was terrific. We are happy about that, because a lot of people I've talked to say they hardly got any tomatoes at all.
This was pretty much the entire 2012 eggplant crop (from six plants).
Yesterday, I decided to cook all the little eggplants we had into a kind of eggplant parmesan with some lasagne noodles, topped with cheesy breadcrumbs. The first step is to slice the eggplants and put the slices in layers in a colander, salting each layer. Let them drain for an hour or longer, and then rinse or wipe off any excess salt. I rinsed them.
Arrange the slices on baking sheets lined with oiled parchment paper and brush the top surface with olive oil. Bake them in a hot oven until they start to brown a little on top. I think the result is better than frying, and I don't bread the slices. Olive oil, salt, and pepper — that's all that goes on them.
Slices of mozzarella cheese go on next...
When they came out of the oven yesterday, Walt and I decided to taste one to make sure the eggplants weren't too bitter to eat. If they were, there would be no need to waste cheese and tomato sauce on them. But they weren't. The slice we tasted was good, so I started to put the gratin together. That's what eggplant parmesan, or even lasagne, is, really — a gratin of eggplant with cheese and tomato sauce.
Put a thin layer of tomato sauce into a baking pan, and top it with a layer of eggplant slices. Over those, put a layer of mozzarella cheese, and then some lasagne noodles. Salt and pepper as you go, adding some dried herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or rosemary) as you go. Make a second series of layers on top of all that, the same way.
This when the parmesan/breadcrumb mixture goes on.
Finally, instead of putting on more lasagne noodles or mozzarella, make a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese. In a big bowl, drizzle olive oil onto the breadcrumbs, stirring so that they all get moistened with some oil. Spread that mixture on top of the gratin and bake it in a medium oven until it is golden brown — 30 to 45 minutes.
Our entire 2012 eggplant crop made exactly one dish of gratin d'aubergines.
It had better be good!
It had better be good!