Seriously Simple: Crispy, Baked Japanese Eggplant Is a Simple, Versatile Dish

BY Diane Rossen Worthington TIMEJanuary 30, 2023 PRINT

These pesto-topped eggplant halves are a Seriously Simple side dish for fish, poultry, or meat. They’re also good as a first course, quartered and served with a drizzle of tomato sauce.

I’m partial to the slender, dark purple eggplant variety. They usually have a milder flavor that’s sometimes slightly sweet since they have fewer seeds than their globe eggplant cousins. Look for young, shiny, firm eggplants that when pressed leave no impression in the flesh. The best size is about 6 inches long, which is still young enough for a sweet taste.

I don’t bother salting these eggplants because they usually aren’t bitter. Japanese eggplant is delicious grilled, roasted, or stir-fried. Once cooked, they have a creamy consistency.

This dish is wonderful for entertaining since you can prepare the eggplant ahead and it can be served hot or at room temperature on a buffet. For a first course or a side dish, I like to serve two on a plate and crisscross them for a pretty presentation. I’ve tried this with both basil and sun-dried tomato pesto with equally delicious results. You can find fresh pesto at your market in the refrigerated section.

Crispy Baked Japanese Eggplant

Serves 4

  • 4 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise

For the Topping

  • 1/2 cup basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto (see recipes or use store-bought)
  • 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs or Panko crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare topping: Combine the pesto, breadcrumbs, cheese, and black pepper in a bowl, and mix to a smooth paste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place eggplant halves on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Prick the flesh to allow herbs to penetrate.

Spread paste evenly on top of eggplant halves. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until tender and top is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Advance Preparation: The eggplant can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead through Step 3, covered, and kept at room temperature before serving. If you want to serve them hot, bake initially for 35 minutes, and finish baking for 10 minutes or so until hot.

Basil Pesto

Makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups

  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 2 cups medium-packed fresh basil leaves (about 2 medium bunches)
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Add the garlic cloves to a food processor while the motor is running. Process until minced. Add basil and parsley and process until finely chopped. Add the pine nuts and finely chop.

With the blades turning, slowly pour in the olive oil in a fine stream. Add pepper and process until well-blended. Taste for seasoning. Add cheese just before serving.

Refrigerate in a tightly covered container until ready to use.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

This luscious pesto is incredibly versatile. It flavors cheese, main courses, dressings, sauces, and pasta. It’s also good on lightly toasted bread.

Makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

While the motor is running, add the garlic to a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until a thick paste is formed. If it’s very thick, you may need to add a bit of olive oil. Place the pesto in a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at Copyright 2021 Diane Rossen Worthington. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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