Monday, June 17, 2013

Italy Inspired Side - Easy Marinated Eggplant

Capitoline Hill, Rome, Photo: NK 
If you're wondering why there was no post last week, it's because I've been across the pond. In fact, my husband and I just got back from an amazing family trip to Italy with our moms.  

And what a time we had. 

Though it was my second visit to the country of my ancestral origin (read some impressions from my maiden trip HERE), it was just my first time in Rome and the Amalfi Coast area. 

Before I left, a friend of mine who, unlike myself, happens to be first generation Italian, enthusiastically advised the following about my impending culinary (and cultural) adventure: 

"eat ALL sorts of vegetables and vegetable dishes, including the 'strange' ones - which really are normal but I put them in quotes anyway. Puntarelle with Acciunghe (Bitter Greens with Anchovies), Roman Style Artichokes (Carciofi alla Romana), Radicchio, Cicoria (Chicory)...AGAIN, all vegetables." 

I know from my own family that Italians really do have a way with vegetables. They just seem to know how to make them delicious, and the meat-free dishes we had in Italy did not disappoint. For as long as I can remember, many of the less universally loved veggies that Italians embrace have been those I count among my favorites --  Broccoli Rabe, Artichokes, and Dandelion Greens, to name just a few. Not so foreign but ever-popular in Italian and Italian American households is the Eggplant, and this humble, purple guy shall be today's vegetable muse. 

Easy Marinated Eggplant, Photo: NK 

Today's side dish is a recreation of the stellar Marinated Eggplant that we recently enjoyed at a restaurant called Nino nearby to Rome's Spanish Steps. 

Rome, Photo: NK 

If you like spicy, lemony, and tender Eggplant, then this recipe is for you. Better yet, you will find it incredibly easy. As a bonus, our dish doesn't require you to go through the usual step of drawing out the Eggplant's natural moisture by sprinkling it with salt and letting it sit (although that's not a big deal to do if you have 20 or 30 minutes extra to spare).

Overall, you'll spend just 20 minutes for prep and active time, followed by at least 2 hours of marinating time. Easy Marinated Eggplant makes a great, bold side dish and it even gets better with age. Store the finished product in the refrigerator up to a few days and bring to room temperature before serving. Jar it up for a great hostess gift too. Finally, you could even place any leftovers in a food processor and roughly chop them for a nice Eggplant Spread that would be perfect to top some warm, crusty Italian bread. Mmmmm mmm. Now where is my wine?! 

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on our Italian Vacation Culinary Roundup, so rest assured that there will be many more dishes to explore soon! See you then, and in the meantime, buon appetito! 

Easy Marinated Eggplant                    

Adapted from The Purple Foodie
Serves 3-4 as a side dish


2 Large Cloves of Garlic, crushed

1 Large Eggplant, 1-1.5 Lbs total

4 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil plus more for brushing the Eggplant

1 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

1 heaping teaspoon Dried Marjoram (or 1/2 a teaspoon of Oregano)

3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice 
Photo: NK
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 

+ Extra Salt and Pepper for sprinkling.

1. Preheat oven to 425. Slice Eggplant into 1/4 - 1/3 inch thick rounds and slice again in thirds (or halves, depending on the width of the Eggplant) as pictured. 

2. Heat the 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil and 2 Cloves of Garlic in a small pan until fragrant and the Garlic begins to turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside. 

3. Next, lay the Eggplant slices in one layer over a roasting pan (you may need more than one pan).

4. Using a pastry brush, paint the top of the Eggplant with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sprinkle with a bit of Salt and Pepper. 

5. Roast the Eggplant for 15 minutes until tender. 
Allow to cool a bit.

6. Stir all the remaining Marinade ingredients into the Olive Oil and Garlic Mixture (Marjoram, Lemon Juice, 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, and 1 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper). Stir to combine. 

7. Mix together the Marinade and the Eggplant in a bowl and allow to sit at least two hours or more in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving. 
Cook's Note *** I like to drain off some of the oil and blot the Eggplant a bit with paper towel before serving this side dish. Enjoy! 

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