“The most lasting and pure gladness comes to me from my gardens.” - Lillie Langtry
I am certainly glad it’s the end of the working week. It has been particularly exhausting, especially yesterday when I put in 13 hours work, going in extra early in the morning and then after the normal working day was over, staying back to run a course information session until 7:30 pm. The session went very well but at the end of it I was pooped. Another busy day today but thankfully, the weekend is ahead.
Despite the vagaries of our weather – cool alternating with hot, hail with dry spells, rain with soaring temperatures – our garden is not doing too badly. The roses of course always tend to suffer with the heat, but once we have a shower or two, they spring back and new blooms sprout forth. We always have a few seasonal vegetables here and there in between the flowers and rose bushes, and we are now enjoying fresh organic tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and some salad greens. Summer is a wonderful season for home-grown produce and often the garden can provide a healthful salad, side dishes of vegetables or even a complete meal – even if it’s only a couple of plants of each variety that one has planted out.
Eggplants are certainly a rewarding vegetable to grow and a single plant can be extremely prolific, providing enough fruit for 2-3 people. The best ones to plant are the grafted varieties and this year we planted one in a large pot (for lack of space in the garden), and it grows quite happily there, fruiting away. Eggplant is also called aubergine, melongene, brinjal or guinea squash while its botanical Latin name is Solanum melongena. It is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and bears a fruit that are used in a multitude of ways in cooking. The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but have a bitter taste because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids; this is unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco. As a nightshade, it is also closely related to the tomato and potato. It is native to India and is extremely popular in Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries.
Here is a vegetarian eggplant recipe from Greece, variations of which may be found in other Mediterranean countries.
Eggplant Au Gratin
1 can of tomato purée or tomato pieces (fresh, ripe tomatoes may be used if available)
2 large eggplants (or four smaller ones)
250 g mozzarella cheese cut in slices
2/3 cup grated parmesan
Olive oil for frying
Salt, pepper, oregano, thyme
Remove the stem from the eggplant and peel them. Cut in slices about 1 cm thick.
Liberally salt the eggplant slices and put in colander for about 30-40 minutes to expel fluid.
Rinse and dry the slices with kitchen paper.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the eggplant until it is golden.
Drain the fried eggplant on kitchen paper until all the excess oil has been removed.
While this is occurring, prepare the tomato sauce. Put the tomato purée in a frying pan with some olive oil and season with salt, pepper and herbs. Heat and cook, reducing it to a thick consistency.
Place the eggplant slices in a baking dish and pour the tomato sauce on top.
Cover with the mozzarella slices and sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.
Bake for 7-8 minutes until the cheese is molten and golden brown.
Serve with a fresh garden salad, crusty bread and some red wine.