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Crunchy fried eggplant is worth making a mess

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Creamy ricotta, red-pepper flakes and honey complement fried eggplant.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Creamy ricotta, red-pepper flakes and honey complement fried eggplant.

Roasted and grilled eggplants are all well and good, but nothing beats the crisp skin and burnished flesh of eggplant that’s been fried.

Frying eggplant isn’t something I’ll do very often, and rarely on a weeknight. But every once in a while, when the urge to eat an entire platter of salty, soft-centered fried eggplant is too intense to ignore, I’ll fill my skillet with oil, and turn up the flame.

It’s a feeling that comes on especially strong as eggplant season wanes on the East Coast and there’s an urgency to the indulgence — oil-splattered stovetop be darned.

The upside is that once you’ve gone to the trouble of frying, you don’t need to do much else; a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lemon are all those crunchy, golden pieces need to shine.

But just as often as not, I’ll take the richer route, and add a little cheese. Like in this recipe for fried eggplant with milky ricotta, red-pepper flakes and honey.

Dead simple and thoroughly appealing, it’s got crunch, it’s got creaminess and it’s got red-pepper heat. There’s also a touch of honey for sweet complexity, along with slivers of fried garlic for oomph.

And you can put it together in under 30 minutes from start to finish, not counting cleanup. (I use a vinegar-soaked rag.)

The key to speedy frying is tender, slim eggplants. Pick one up; it should feel light for its size. Violet Japanese eggplant works particularly well. Just avoid those large, dense, heavy purple globes, which take a lot longer to cook through.

Cut the eggplant up into skinny spears, and salt them while you heat up your pan. The salt both seasons them and draws out a bit of their moisture, so make sure to pat them dry before adding to the hot oil.

After the eggplant is fried, it’s the garlic’s turn. Throw some slices into the hot pan, and let sizzle until golden. That’s it for the cooking.

All that’s left is a garnish of milky ricotta, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of red-pepper flakes and basil. Serve it with a big green salad and some good bread or polenta for a vegetable-focused meal, or as a side dish alongside meat or seafood for something more substantial.

Your kitchen will be greasy; your apron may be stained. But if you love eggplant, it’s but a small price to pay for the glories of the feast.

PAN-FRIED EGGPLANT WITH CHILI, HONEY AND RICOTTA

By Melissa Clark

  • 1-1/2 pounds Japanese or other slender eggplant, cut into 3-inch-by-1-inch spears
  • Fine sea salt, as needed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Flaky sea salt, to taste
  • 1/3 cup torn basil leaves
  • Lemon or lime wedges, for serving (optional)

Sprinkle eggplant lightly with fine sea salt, and let sit while you heat the skillet.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium. Add oil and heat until shimmering. Pat eggplant dry if necessary, then arrange in a single layer in skillet (cook them in batches if necessary to prevent crowding). Fry until softened and golden brown on all sides, turning them often, about 9 to 15 minutes total.

Transfer finished pieces to a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle very lightly with more fine sea salt.

When all the eggplant is cooked, reduce heat under pan to low and add garlic and a little more oil; cook until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the paper towel-lined plate next to the eggplant.

Spread ricotta on a serving plate. Top with fried eggplant and garlic. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with red pepper flakes, flaky sea salt and basil. Serve immediately, with lemon or lime wedges on the side if you like. Serves 4.

Nutritional information unavailable.

And to drink …

This is a straightforward pairing except for one ingredient, the honey, which adds an element of rich sweetness that causes difficulty. Without the honey, I would look for a relatively light red with zingy acidity, a pure Chianti classico, for example, unburdened by oaky flavors. With that dollop of honey, however, I might want a wine with a bit of sweetness as well as acidity, like a demi-sec Vouvray or a spatlese riesling. It’s something of a quandary, so I would figure it this way: Go light on the honey and stick with the red, or be generous with it and opt for a moderately sweet white.

———

Eric Asimov, New York Times

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