Note: As I said above, you can just top this with fresh berries and be done with it. I went for the purées to get a layered effect, but I have been known to overdo things. For the filling, you...
For all their voluptuous beauty, eggplants are one of the most misunderstood vegetables in the summer kitchen. Many are familiar only with the purple-skinned Italian eggplants that are as big as your calf and less yielding. Thankfully, there are varieties of eggplant as diverse in hue and flavor as many heirloom tomatoes are from one another.
Tiny Thai eggplants are a soft, variegated green. Indian eggplants are purple miniatures of their larger Italian cousins. Japanese eggplants are long, slender, and an inky purple. Chinese eggplants are only slightly different, being a bit lighter in color and perhaps a smidgen more squat. There are white-veined purple eggplants, eggshell-white eggplants, and chartreuse eggplants. If you were to spend the rest of your life going solely to the supermarket, you would never guess at the eggplant's diverse family tree. Thankfully, that's what farmer's markets are for.
The only trouble with the Italian eggplant is that, beyond eggplant parmesan, most of us can't seem to figure out how to eat it. Unwieldy and difficult to cook whole, this specimen is often relegated to the territory of fried foods. But eggplant is not an impulsive fruit and is slow to change, necessitating a response in kind from those who cook it.
What this means is that eggplant cooked quickly is cottony and unpleasant. You've experienced this, I'm sure. An undercooked eggplant squishes when you bite into it. With the resistance of a mealy apple and the texture of a sponge, eggplant can be downright dreadful when placed in the hands of an impatient cook. More than anything, this vegetable needs time, and only then does it transform into a silky seductress.
My absolute favorite method for cooking eggplant is roasting. Grilling is almost impossible to do well with eggplant unless you grill it whole over a slow fire, although we have had luck with smoking eggplants. Sautéing is too quick. Stewing eggplant, as in ratatouille, can yield gratifying results. However, I stick to roasting, even for ratatouille, where I roast the eggplant separately and add it to the dish towards the end of cooking.
The easiest way to roast eggplants is to wrap them individually in tin foil. Roast at 400 degrees until very tender. Look for the skin to wrinkle and collapse. A knife inserted should meet no resistance. I find that "crisp tender" eggplant is not desirable at all. Go ahead and cook the living daylights out of it.
After that, almost anything you do to the eggplant will be superb. Baba ghanoush is always a welcome addition to an hors d'oeuvre spread or to dinner itself. Serve halved roasted eggplants with a tangy yogurt sauce. Toss with soba or rice noodles in an Asian-inspired vinaigrette.
My new favorite way to treat eggplant, however, is to roast it whole, split it down the middle, and brush it with a miso glaze before briefly broiling it. This method involves more than one cooking method, but the little bit of extra effort you put in will yield delectable results. Roasting the eggplant whole keeps it moist and ensures a creamy texture. Broiling it caramelizes the miso glaze and brings out more flavor than perhaps you knew an eggplant had in it.
Finally, I encourage you to try some of the beautiful and delicious heirloom eggplant varieties available now through farmer's markets and ethnic food stores. Not only are they incredibly tasty, but most of them are small and roast much quicker than Italian eggplant.
I used two squat, roundish green eggplants for this recipe. Elongated Japanese or Chinese eggplants would also work nicely. Should you be lucky enough to find diminutive Indian eggplants, they would make a fabulous hors d'oeuvre treated in this manner.
You can find all the ingredients for this dish at most supermarkets, although you will pay far less if you can find an ethnic food store.
One option for making this dish is to roast the eggplants ahead of time. Say, when you are roasting other things. Then, refrigerate and whenever you need a quick side dish, simply halve and glaze the eggplants and broil.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. With a paring knife, poke several slits in:
Small eggplants (not Italian) to total one pound
Wrap the eggplants individually in foil and roast until a knife inserted meets no resistance, about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the thickness of the eggplant.
Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, combine:
2 tablespoons red miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon honey
Whisk or mash with a fork until smooth. When the eggplants are tender, remove from the foil and let sit until cool enough to handle. Alternatively, refrigerate the eggplants for later use. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise and brush liberally with the miso glaze. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and broil six inches from the heat until the glaze is browned and beginning to blacken in spots, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm.