By Wendy King
If one thinks about purple berries, maybe blackberries or grapes spring to mind. But eggplant is also a card-carrying member of the fruit clan! The eggplant also claims lineage to the ominous-sounding nightshade family, along with the tomato, pepper, and potato, and provides a lot of nutritional value. Since this fruit frequently features in savory dishes from Parmesan to pizza, its true identity is often hidden. In addition to purple, the eggplant comes in shades of green and white, which coupled with its egg shape, sheds light on how it was named.
Documented as early as 300 BC, this funny-looking fruit was first cultivated in India and China and became a staple of diets and medicine, used to treat diabetes and asthma, according to the International Society for Horticultural Science. Eggplant then worked its way across continents to Persia, Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe. In this last stop, eggplant was interestingly dubbed an aphrodisiac as well as the culprit causing melancholy and anger. These same Europeans also accepted this flexible fruit as a good addition to the evening meal, with the right seasoning added to supposedly ward off any bad effects. The eggplant even traveled to the Americas in the Age of Exploration and was documented in Brazil in the 17th century.
In our modern era nutritional experts in Medical News Today state that eggplant provides fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and B6 for heart health. Other components fight free radicals to help lower cholesterol and antioxidant power works to fight cancer. With brain health on the forefront as life expectancy expands, nutrients in the eggplant skin help protect cell membranes and facilitate blood flow to the brain, improving memory and fighting age-related disorders.
To add more of this power packed eggplant to your diet, here is a creative twist on the usual Parmesan recipe developed by the personal chef of the famed cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, from Yankee magazine decades ago. Enjoy this easy version of the Italian favorite!
2 large eggplants
½ cup olive oil
1 cup mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg beaten
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
½ TBSP minced fresh basil or ½ tsp dried basil
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 ½ -3 cups tomato sauce
Peel the eggplants and slice lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices. Brush both sides of each slice with some olive oil, then lay them on a baking sheet in batches. Broil until golden, about 5 minutes, turn the slices over and repeat. Set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reserve ¼ cup each, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Combine the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, ricotta, egg, spinach, parsley, basil, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Spread some of the mixture on each eggplant slice, roll, and place seam-side down in a 13x9x2 inch casserole dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls, sprinkle with reserved cheeses. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Serves 6-8.