Eggplant & Tomato Caprese Salad

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I’m so excited to be working with my friends at Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, New York this summer.  The farm grows organic vegetables, fruit, flowers, and wheat and over the last few years I have loved experimenting with the different fruits and veggies that show up in the CSA box each week. This year, Amber Waves opened a beautiful new farm store, and to celebrate, I’ll be sharing recipes inspired by what’s in season and available at the farm all summer long. Wherever you live, I hope you’ll find inspiration to cook seasonally, eat locally, and explore delicious new ways eat your way through the summer!

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I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to add vegetables to my cooking routine is to incorporate them into dishes I already love. Eggplant is the perfect example. I don’t buy eggplant often, and when I do, it’s usually to throw on the grill with other summer vegetables. It’s good, it’s fine, but let’s face it, unless the recipe involves tomato sauce, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, people don’t usually rave about eggplant.

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BUT, sneak eggplant into a Caprese salad, and you will never look at it the same way again. There’s something about the contrast of the charred eggplant, juicy tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and fresh basil that heightens the flavor of each ingredient, so you really taste each one. Rather than getting lost under a bunch of other grilled veggies, eggplant is the star here. And fished with a generous drizzle of syrupy balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt, it’s the kind of eggplant recipe you might actually end up raving about.

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A few notes… Because this recipe so simple, the key is starting with the best ingredients you can find: firm-ripe summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and good-quality, aged balsamic vinegar for that thick drizzle. For this recipe, I used medium-size tomatoes, but larger beefsteak tomatoes will also work. Since eggplants are a different thickness throughout, the diameter of the tomatoes and the eggplant slices won’t be exactly even. I think it’s kind of fun (and easier) that way, but you can do your best to arrange the slices of tomato and eggplant by size for a neater presentation.

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Eggplant & Tomato Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 medium tomatoes, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 2 medium eggplants, sliced in ½-inch thick rounds
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 bunch fresh basil leaves
  • good-quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • coarse sea salt

Directions

Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals or set a gas grill to medium-high heat.

Brush the eggplant slices generously with olive oil on both sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until charred on the outside and soft on the inside. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

On a large rectangular platter, layer the tomatoes, mozzarella, eggplant and basil in diagonal rows. Drizzle generously with vinegar and olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Serve at room temperature.


Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

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I love going to the farmers market, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past all the beautiful fruit and vegetables and then stopped and thought, “but what am I actually going to cook?” Instead of standing in front of a crate of eggplants and Googling easy eggplant recipes – or just buying a muffin and a few peaches and calling it a day- I wanted to come up with a great summer dish that would make use of those abundant peak-of-summer vegetables.

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David inspects grilled eggplant for doneness.

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This recipe combines eggplant and sweet cherry tomatoes in a pasta that’s light, simple, and really flavorful. Instead of the classic summer go-tos, basil, mozzarella and balsamic, I used Sicilian flavors and ingredients- hot red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovy and golden raisins- and came up with a sauce that’s spicy, savory and just a little bit sweet. It’s almost like rigatoni with a summery caponata on top.

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I like to use a mix of red cherry tomatoes, for their color, and super sweet Sun-Gold tomatoes, for their super sweetness..

This pasta is great for potlucks and summer cookouts because it’s delicious both warm and at room temperature. If you’re planning ahead, you could even make the sauce and grill the eggplant in advance, and then cook the pasta and toss everything together at the last minute. And if you omit the anchovy paste, the pasta will not only be vegetarian, but vegan, too. (woooo!) That said, if you aren’t vegetarian, I highly recommend including the anchovy. It’s subtle, but adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.

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Sicilian Tomato and Eggplant Rigatoni

Ingredients

  • 2 small eggplants (1 1/2 lbs total), sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes (2 pints)
  • 1 lb rigatoni
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Prepare a charcoal grill with a single layer of hot coals, set a gas grill to medium-high heat, or heat a stovetop grill pan over medium-heat high. Brush the eggplant slices generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Set aside to cool. Once the eggplant has cooled, cut each slice into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small sauté pan, combine the raisins and vinegar and cook over low heat until the vinegar has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/3 cup olive oil, along with the garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have burst and are starting to break down. Add the eggplant and the raisins and cook for 5 more minutes.*
  4. Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the directions on the package. Drain and pour the pasta into a large bowl. Add the sauce and toss well. Add the pine nuts and parsley, reserving about 2 tablespoons of each for the top, and toss gently. Sprinkle the pasta with the reserved pine nuts and parsley, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm or at room temperature.
  5. Note: The sauce can be made several hours in advance and brought back to a simmer just before you plan to cook the pasta.