Alternatives with eggplant, pesto may be just right

Mention “pesto,” and most people have a classic flavor profile in mind. Likewise, eggplant Parmesan is a dish that suggests a specific preparation.

While I’ve blogged before about pesto’s wide-open interpretation, depending on the herb and nut employed, I’ve been inflexible on the point of eggplant Parmesan. This is the year, however, that I may change my mind about the latter.

For the first time in my memory, our garden lacks a globe eggplant variety, the corpulent fruits that yield slices several inches in diameter, perfect for breading and frying for eggplant Parmesan. My mother-in-law didn’t have seed to start globe eggplants over the winter, then couldn’t find starts when it was time to plant. Can we make do with the long, thin Japanese variety, she asked?

I’ve always used Japanese eggplants for stir-frying, maybe tossing into minestrone, Thai curry or lentil stew. They’re just not large enough to warrant the effort to bread and fry. But without any of their larger cousins, I may resort to breading them after all. Baking them could be the ticket, given that they’re more tender and exude less water than larger eggplant.

This recipe, substituting Japanese eggplant sliced into long strips is a good starting point. And while I’m making one significant substitution, I may as well embrace an alternate pesto formula. Kale, I have. But I also have an enormous bunch of carrot tops attached to some locally grown golden carrots that would be perfect in pesto with walnuts or almonds.

Crispy Eggplant With Kale Pesto Fettuccine

Tribune News Service photo

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 egg

1 cup panko breadcrumbs, crushed

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more to serve

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon dried shallots, crushed

1 eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch thick coins

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 1/2 ounces fettucine or tagliatelle

Herby Kale Pesto (recipe follows) or 5 ounces store-bought pesto

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place flour in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl whisk the egg with 1/4 cup water. In third bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the Parmesan and other spices.

Dip both sides of eggplant slices first in flour then in egg and finally in breadcrumbs. Lay on baking tray and drizzle or spray with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, flip over and then bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until golden-brown and crisp.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot filled with salted, boiling water according to package instructions. Drain pasta and stir in the pesto. Serve with baked eggplant and more Parmesan.

Makes 2 servings.

HERBY KALE PESTO: Zest 1 lemon and cut it in half. Juice 1 half into bowl of a food processor; add zest. Add 1 peeled and minced garlic clove, 1 ounce walnut halves, 3 ½ ounces chopped kale, a large handful of fresh basil leaves, 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 4 tablespoons olive oil and a large pinch of salt. Blend until a paste forms, adding additional oil to achieve desired consistency. Use immediately or store in a lidded container in fridge or freezer. Makes 6 ounces.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Everyday Delicious: Super Tasty Breakfasts, Brunches, Mains, Desserts & Snacks” by Izy Hossack (Hardie Grant, $29.99).

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