I’ve grown to love those long skinny eggplants, not more than a couple of inches in diameter at the widest part. It’s not so much the flavor—which is similar to all other eggplants, whether white, striped, pale, or dark purple—but they are decidedly easier to work with and don’t need the tiresome process of salting, then rinsing, then drying.
One delicious treat comes from British food writer Nigel Slater who simply chunks the eggplant (aubergines, he calls them) and tosses with plenty of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a healthy sprinkle of ground cardamom, then roasts in a hot oven for 30 or 40 minutes until the chunks are golden. After they’ve cooled down a bit, toss with a mix of yogurt, tahini and more olive oil, in a ratio of 2:1:1. Add a spritz of lemon juice and serve as an antipasto or a side to plainly grilled fish or meat.
A little more complicated is a deconstructed parmigiana di melanzane that I watched Pugliese chef Renato Morisco make at an olive oil conference recently. Renato peeled the eggplant in slivers, then deep-fried the slivers (in extra-virgin, natch) and set them aside. He sliced the eggplant about ¾ inch thick, then roasted the slices on a flat grill set right on top of the stove–no oil, nothing but heat to brown them. (I used my trusty black iron skillet for this.) Then he stacked the slices with sliced fresh tomatoes that had been dried out in a low oven for a couple of hours, along with sliced buffalo mozzarella, topped with breadcrumbs and minced fresh basil. (When I did it, I smeared a little leftover basil pesto in with the breadcrumbs.)
You can pile up double stacks, Todd English style, if you want, but I wouldn’t go any higher. Put the stacks in a lightly oiled pan into a hot oven just long enough to melt the mozzarella a bit and bring the flavors together. To serve, Renato sprinkled the deep-fried slivers of eggplant skin on top. If the eggplant is skinny enough, these are almost bite-sized; best to count on at least two or three to a customer as a first course or starter. And of course if the eggplants are too skinny, you can slice them on the diagonal to make larger pieces.