Aunt Suzy says . . . .

For all you eggplant lovers out there, this is one tasty dish!  And young, tender eggplants are everywhere in the farmer’s markets right now.  The original recipe for this called for the elongated Italian ones, which we don’t see typically in our markets.  I have used small globe eggplants in the past and this time I used the long slender Japanese variety.  Both have worked well.  While this recipe calls for cheese, it can easily be omitted with equally delicious results.  Serve with a salad, baguette and white or red Italian wine, and you’re all set for a great late summer meal.

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, medium dice

8 large cloves garlic, sliced

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

pinch of sugar

4 medium globe or 6-7 Japanese eggplants, totaling about 2 pounds or so (2-3 Italian eggplants if you find them)

1/3 cup each chopped fresh mint, basil and flat-leaf parsley

3-4 ounces fontina or provolone cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into pieces

Prepare the eggplants by first rolling them on a flat surface to soften the insides.  Cut slits in the eggplants.  These will naturally be shallower with the Japanese variety and should be a couple of inches deep in the globe or Italian eggplants.  Stuff the slits with half of the garlic slices and pieces of the cheese. Work to close the slits and set aside.

To prepare the braising mixture, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or Dutch oven.  Add the onion and cook, covered, for 5 minutes until it softens.  Add the half the garlic and cook another 2 minutes until the onion starts to brown a little.  Add the tomatoes, chile flakes and sugar and cook, covered for about 5 minutes. Place the prepared eggplants on top of the tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with half the herbs.

Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the eggplants, cover the pot and braise for 60-90 minutes depending on how big around the eggplants are.  Check every 30 minutes and baste the eggplants with the tomato gravy.  They are done when very soft but not falling apart.  Remove the eggplants to a platter.  The sauce should be moderately thick, so if it’s watery, turn up the heat and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in remaining herbs. Return eggplants to sauce and heat briefly before serving.

I always cook an amount that will result in leftovers because this is great served with pasta as a second meal.  Just cut up the eggplants, heat in the sauce and then toss with your favorite small pasta shapes.  Serve with or without grated Parmesan or Romano.

Aunt Suzy says . . . .

It’s been a long time since I’ve made this dish, but since spring has just burst on the scene I tried to think of recipes that could be served at room temperature.  Not that it’s terribly hot, but it feels great to get out of the soup/stew pattern of the last many months.  I love mint and enjoy cooking with it – I’m always on the lookout for savory recipes that use mint.  This is from Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table cookbook, which is packed with delicious recipes.  She mentioned that this can also be made with tuna, which is more traditional than chicken.

I would rate this dish as easy but impressive! We served it with Lemony Quinoa and Oven Roasted Asparagus – the first of the season! It pairs well with a Sicilian white wine, but we had a rose on hand and it was a delicious match.

The Chicken

1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon EV olive oil

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Slice the chicken cross-wise in 1-inch (or so) strips.  Toss the chicken with the remaining ingredients, cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 1-6 hours.  When ready to cook, heat a gridded skillet, griddle or 12-inch saute pan to medium-high heat.  Saute the chicken, sprinkling it with salt.  Turn the pieces until they start to pick up color, then turn down the heat to medium to medium-low.

Continue to cook about 5 more minutes, turning occasionally, until chicken is barely firm when pressed.  Transfer to a serving platter and cover with the mint sauce.  This can be served warm or room temperature.

Mint Sauce

1/4 medium red onion, small dice

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon EV olive oil

1/4 tightly packed cup fresh mint, finely chopped, or more to taste

About 30 minutes before cooking the chicken, stir together the onion, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt/pepper in a small bowl.  Let sit 20 minutes, then add the olive oil.  Stir in the mint right before serving.