Sicilian Eggplants: Back to Culinary Basics

When it comes to quality produce, there are two adjectives that weave their magic and elevate simple food to a higher level: seasonal and regional. Two simple concepts that are becoming rare in some parts of the world where we willingly exchange flavour for year round availability.

But not in Italy.

In the Sicilian town of Mazara del Vallo, I stroll down the streets with an eye on food. Local produce abounds in grocery shops often spilling onto the footpath. Cousin D takes us around and points out what is available now and what will be gone in a few weeks.

Mazara del Vallo - Sicily Sicilian eggplant

Back at her apartment in the Kasbah part of Mazara, I am introduced to the humble eggplant. Melanzane, or Sicilian eggplants are characterised by a rotund shape and distinctive light purple colour that reminds me of a magical night sky.

Sicilian eggplant

Their skin is tender and thin and the flesh feels firm to the touch.

Sicilian eggplant

There are many ways to enjoy melanzane but tonight’s culinary lesson is one in simplicity and an education in basic taste. With a glass of local Santagostino Rosso Baglio Sorico in one hand and a camera not far from the other, I watch her prepare the dish.

Sicilian eggplant Sicilian eggplant

She cuts the eggplant into rounds of medium thickness. I note the dense white flesh and the relative lack of seeds. She explains that salting the eggplant is not necessary as the flesh lacks the bitterness of other type of aubergines.

Sicilian eggplant

She cuts each piece in half and without using any oil, she cooks them over a thin hot plate that I have seen her use from warming the morning’s bread to reheating food.

Sicilian eggplant

The eggplant only takes a few minutes to cook on each side. While still warm, she drizzles a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled chopped parsley.

“This is the healthy version,” she says, explaining the minimal use of oil without compromising on flavour. I nod, turning a blind eye to the tray of dolci siciliani on the kitchen counter.

When it comes to taste, the Sicilian eggplant is the sweetest I have ever eaten. The simple and light dish delivers on taste and educates the palate in fresh and seasonal produce.

Travelling and eating around Italy and France, I have come to appreciate and enjoy what is available in season. A visit to the food mercato in Mogliano Veneto during October, with chestnuts and mushrooms in season will yield a different experience come June. The local people know what is best at a particular time of the year and dispense with produce of poorer quality.

It is time we all returned to these basics.

This article is posted on Gourmantic.com. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2014

Sicilian Eggplants: Back to Culinary Basics was last modified: April 20th, 2011 by Corinne

Corinne

Corinne is the founder and editor of Gourmantic. An avid scribe, she has taken pen to paper since the age of five. Her repertoire includes long works of fiction, short stories and travelogues. She is a winner of the GT travel writing competition, has judged the Australasian Whisky Awards for 2013 and several cocktail competitions. She is also named in the Australian Bartender Most Influential List for 2013.
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24 Comments:

  1. Looks so simple yet tasty. If only I could get my family to like eggplant.

  2. I am not a fan of eggplant but you made it sound so good and this dish looks so tasty that I might have to try it again!

    • You could try a little garlic to enhance the natural taste, unless it’s the texture you don;t like then I totally understand :)

  3. I love cooking eggplants, and I love their colour but I haven’t tried these ones. Sweet you say? Another product to watch out for in the markets.

  4. I wonder if it would work just as well with an eggplant that’s not Sicilian. It looks delicious!

  5. i really like learning this – eggplant seems so mysterious and this simplifies it! thanks!

  6. Bella! Sometimes the simplest foods are the most satisfying.

  7. I wish I had a Cousin D in every city! :)

  8. I agree, there is a very strong ethos in mediterranean countries of eating with the seasons and eating what’s local that we forget in the UK, preferring to live out of the freezer.

    • Frozen vegetables are supposed to have the same nutritional value as fresh vegetables but I’m not sold on the taste. As for growing produce out of season, we now have the likes of tasteless tomatoes to thank for.

  9. I could never stand eggplant as a child but they grew on me quickly once I began to appreciate their varieties and all the ways to cook them. Have never had Sicilian before, will definitely keep it in mind :)

    • I think we all have childhood foods that we don’t like to eat then we suddenly again an appreciation for them as we grow up. Mind you, I can’t image appreciating brussel sprouts at any stage of my life! :)

  10. This is not a vegetable that I eat very often. This looks delicious!

  11. We eat ‘with the seasons’ and just adore aubergines. When the vegetables are seasonal and fresh like this, there’s no need to make complicated dishes. Just plain and simple like this – perfect! :) We never salt our aubergines either – maybe because they’re seasonal and it’s not necessary?

    • Mediterranean produce always amazes me. Could be a different type of eggplant as well, one that doesn’t need salt to purge the bitterness. I wish we could eat with the seasons here. There are certainly more advantages than having availability all year round! :)

  12. When I come to Mazara to see family, my grandfather would fry them in pan with olive oil, and I mean fried as in pan seared, the same way you would cook breaded meat. The eggplants are then served with short pasta (trecce or mostaccioli) with homemade tomato sauce.

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