The Princeton Public Library played host again for the fantastic cooking series Princeton Eats. Executive Chef Christopher Albrecht brought in several varieties of eggplants from the farmers’ market, and shared some recipes.
Albrecht is very charismatic, and a wonderful instructor. I sat there listening to him and was thinking “Here’s a James Beard recognized chef who’s at the helm of Eno Terra, which was once again listed as one of the Top 25 Restaurants in New Jersey, and he’s HERE at the library sharing his cooking techniques and recipes.” Thanks to the library, Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and of course Chef Albrecht!
He brought in Nadia, Rosa Bianca, Clara, Sicilian, and Fairytale eggplants. Chef Albrecht explained that eggplants are like sponges and absorb liquids like the oil they’re cooked in. To avoid this, they need to be disgorged by salting and draining them in a colander. This makes them firmer and less likely to absorb the oil. If you’re on a low-sodium diet you should stick to thinner varieties that you can avoid salting, or perhaps consider substituting the eggplant for another vegetable.
Albrecht sliced the eggplants and showed us how some have more seeds than others, and told us that they oxidize, so they’ll turn brown a while after cutting. He also showed us the difference between an eggplant with thick skin like the Sicilian, and a thin-skinned Rosa Bianca, which is one of his favorites.
On this day the Chef Albrecht didn’t cook, but did prepare eggplant caviar with a previously charred eggplant. He also brought the finished product of other dishes for us to sample. There was marinated eggplant, caponata (a Sicilian dish), and eggplant parmesan.
The eggplant caviar had a wonderful smokey flavor from charring it first. The marinated eggplant was grilled adding a touch of smokiness along with the brightness of the marinade, and had a meaty texture. The caponata was a sweet, sour, and savory combo that included red onions, capers, plum tomatoes, red wine vinegar, olive oil, basil, golden raisins and pine nuts. The caviar and caponata tasted great on the crostini supplied.
The eggplant parmesan was the BEST I’ve ever tasted! It was very light, and Albrecht used fairytale eggplant. There was no breading, it wasn’t oily, and he didn’t use heavy mozzarella cheese. He used parmesan cheese, which got crisp on top after baking, and added a crunchy texture that some might miss from the breadcrumbs without overwhelming the eggplant. After all, it is called eggplant PARMESAN, so why do others use a different cheese? I must admit, I scooped up a bit of the leftover sauce and put it on a crostini, and it was amazing on its own. I think this was the favorite, especially because no one has eaten eggplant parmesan this good.
After two years I just found out that a couple who attends every cooking class travels from Pennsylvania to see him in action. Talk about dedicated fans!
I also discovered that every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday this summer Eno Terra hosts a Family Dinner night offering a three-course dinner. It features classic family recipes using their oak and cherry wood fire grill for only $19. Now THAT’S a deal!
Here’s the recipe for eggplant caviar courtesy of Chef Christopher Albrecht (pictured above), which can be served on crostini as an appetizer.
- 1 Sicilian (or any large) eggplant
- 4 cloves of confit or roasted garlic pureéd
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4T extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Roasted peppers and/or mushrooms as garnish
- Preheat grill or cast iron skillet or hot oven
- Wash and dry the eggplant
- Place directly on skillet or grill or in oven without oil
- Heat the eggplant, turning on all sides until wilted and charred
- Scoop out the pulp, including seeds and place in colander or strainer overnight
- The next morning, finely chop the drained eggplant
- Mix in chopped parsley, pureéd garlic, half the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to the eggplant
- If necessary, add more lemon juice to taste. It should have a nutty and smokey, yet slightly acidic flavor
- Add garnish and serve