Joni Woolf: Eggplant, two ways

Published 1:46 pm Saturday, July 28, 2018

Recently I have been reading some of my oldest cookbooks, those dating to the ‘50s and ‘60s (and a few much older), and comparing recipes to those found in new cookbooks. One noticeable absence in the newer ones is the congealed salad. Once a staple at ladies’ luncheons, it is not popular with a younger generation, who often says “yech.” But a more noticeable change has come with vegetable dishes. Older recipes will note: Open a can of corn, or a can of tomatoes, or a can of asparagus (a can of asparagus, for heaven’s sake!) and proceed with the recipe.
While going through a small ceramic box of special recipes lately, I found a recipe called Pleasant Hill Stuffed Eggplant from The Macon News, probably when Clara Hooks Eschmann was their food editor. It is a fine recipe, with an elegant name. Then I went to the book given me recently by Editor/Publisher Beth Alston — Fresh Tastes From a Well Seasoned Kitchen — and found a similar recipe. But notice the addition of fresh herbs and spices, the kinds that have been creeping into our everyday cooking for the last generation or two. Both are good. You decide.

Pleasant Hill Stuffed Eggplant (an editorial notation calls this an “updated version” of eggplant)
2 medium sized eggplants, about 7 inches long
3 tablespoons lightly salted butter
1 cup chopped peeled onion
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 10 ½ ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups coarse butter-cracker crumbs (about 32 crackers)
Cut a lengthwise slice about ½ inch thick from each eggplant. Cut out interiors in large chunks leaving a shell about 1/4 inch thick. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 1 ½ quart baking dish. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-size pan. Add onions and saute about 5 minutes. Add eggplant pulp, just enough water to cover, and the salt. Cover and cook 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well, return to pan and stir in the pepper, parsley, Worcestershire, soup and all but 3 tablespoons of the crumbs. Place eggplant shells in the baking dish and mound filling into them. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs and dot with remaining butter. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until shells are tender. Serves 8.

The following recipe from Fresh Tastes contains a variety of fresh vegetables, no bread product, and is a slightly more complex process. It fairly shouts “modernity.”

Stuffed Eggplant
1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
8 ounces fresh mushrooms (white, cremini or shiitake), chopped
1 ½ teaspoons chopped garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (whole or skim)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ¼ cups (5 oz.) freshly grated Romano cheese, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking dish large enough to hold the eggplant when cut in half lengthwise. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, remove pulp, leaving a ¼ inch thick shell. Set the shell aside. Chop the pulp into small pieces. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped eggplant, onion, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes or until the mixture begins to soften. Cover and cook on low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the vegetables are cooking: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk until smooth and well blended. Bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Whisk in the cayenne pepper, nutmeg and ¾ cup of the cheese.
Stir ½ cup of the sauce into the vegetable mixture. Add additional sauce as needed. You may not need much more; it depends on the size of the eggplant. Stir in ¼ cup of the cheese, parsley and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper (needs a fair amount of salt). Season the eggplant shells with salt and pepper. Fill shells with the vegetable mixture and place in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped tomato and remaining ¼ cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes or until bubbly hot and cheese is golden brown. Cut each eggplant shell in half crosswise and serve. Serves four.

Eggplants are plentiful at markets during our lush summer months, so there are many ways to enjoy. You could even peel, cut in sticks like French Fries, dip in a flour/salt/pepper/ mixture and deep fry. Great hors d’oeuvre. Cook at the same time as you are deep-frying okra pods (though I would roll those in cornmeal with salt and pepper). Your guests will thank you.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at