The mild flavor and airy structure of eggplant allow it to act like a flavor sponge that can fit into almost any cuisine. When eggplant is cooked well, it takes on the flavors you pair it with and develops a silky texture so soft it almost melts in your mouth.
This is a simple recipe for silky, flavorful eggplant. But even though it’s simple, you’ll need about an hour to make it (most of that is waiting time while though). You can change up the flavors to anything you like for the seasoning mix and replace the pesto with any other complementary sauce – try coriander, cinnamon, garlic and paprika as the seasoning and replace the pest with harissa for a Moroccan flavor, or go in a different direction with cumin, garlic, and chipotle to flavor the eggplant, and top it with salsa verde.
For the eggplant:
2 eggplants, stems removed
2 T olive oil
1 t Italian seasoning
½ tsp garlic powder
1 T soy sauce (optional)
Basil pesto (recipe below)
Ricotta cheese – fresh, homemade ricotta is best, but store bought works just fine too
Preheat oven to 400.
Slice the eggplant into 1 inch thick slices. Sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice, then place the slices on a wire rack to rest for 30 minutes. You may want to put a cookie sheet under the eggplant slices. As they sit with the salt, some of the moisture will be drawn out of the slices and may drip down under the rack. After 30 minutes, rince each piece of eggplant to remove any extra salt. Then pat the slices dry. If you’re short on time, you can skip this resting step, but the result with be a more oily/greasy final dish.
While the eggplant sits salting, combine the olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder (and soy sauce, if using) in a small bowl.
Once you have patted the eggplant slices dry on both sides, spread the slices on 1-2 baking sheets (preferably sheets with sides). You want the there to be about 1 inch of space between all the slices to prevent them from steaming in the oven as they release moisture. Brush the oil and seasoning mixture over both sides of each eggplant slice.
Roast the eggplant slices for 20 minutes, then flip them over and continue to roast for another 15 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the eggplant slices to sit on the sheets for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.
Spread a thin layer of pesto on top of each eggplant slice. Then top them with a scattering of ricotta cheese.
For the pesto
2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup parmesan cheese
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup walnuts or pine nuts
About ½ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except the oil in a food processor and process until well blended. You may have to open the lid once or twice to scrape down the sides.
With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.
Use immediately for best color and flavor. Extra pesto can be kept for a couple days in the fridge in a covered container with plastic wrap pressed to the surface of the pesto. Or, you can freeze extra in ice cube trays, then place the frozen cubes of pest in a freezer bag. They will keep for several months in the freezer.