Owning in part to their incredible adaptability both as a cultivar and as an ingredient, there are nearly as many varieties of eggplant as there are ways to cook them. Originally a native of India, the eggplant was brought to Western Europe through Moorish trade channels near the end of the Moors’ domination of Spain in the fifteenth century. Like its relatives peppers and tomatoes, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, and was considered poisonous or insanity provoking and thus avoided in France until the eighteenth century.
Eggplant is often cooked in copious and unfortunate amounts of oil, as its spongy tissue is filled with air pockets that drink up liquids of all kinds. The best way to avoid this is to bake, grill, or roast the eggplant first and then add it to recipes calling for initial frying or sautéing. Choose firm, smooth-skinned fruit that is about half the size of the largest in the bin. Younger eggplant have fewer seeds and tend to be sweeter. Salting eggplant prior to cooking is an antiquated habit that dates back to the times when eggplants were bitter, probably owing to the use of overripe fruit, as well as varietals variation. This is usually a waste of time, however.
Eggplant is the chief ingredient in caponata – a spread found everywhere over the island It's capable of infinite transformations and it is readily adaptable to any taste. Every city, town, village and hamlet in Sicily seems to have its own sacrosanct recipe for caponata.
Like tomatoes, eggplant is best stored at room temperature, so it's best to buy several at a time but no more. If you find yourself faced with a spectacular harvest in your garden, we have only two words: caponata freezes.
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