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Eggplant with Goat Cheese and Pesto
By Charlie Burke

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We picked the last or our thin purple eggplant this week, and I am determined
to use them all over the next week or so. I was recently thumbing through a well
used copy of Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (Knopf, New York, 1986) by legendary
teacher Marcella Hazan, where I came across a variation of pesto. Rather than
using Parmesan and Pecorino Romano as in classic pesto preparation, she
blended the standard basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt and olive oil and then mixed in
two to three tablespoons of soft goat cheese to which a small volume of olive oil
had been added.

Thin spaghetti with goat cheese pesto made a memorable dinner that night, with
Heart Song Farm’s* goat cheese (Valerie ships her cheeses)giving the sauce a
smooth rich flavor.

I thought this combination would go perfectly with thin slices of
eggplant
replacing the pasta and with the roles of the cheese and pesto being reversed. In
this preparation, a few tablespoons of pesto flavors the goat cheese which is
placed inside folded cooked eggplant. A minimal amount of a sauce made from
our heirloom tomatoes, a short time in the oven and a handful of fresh basil
resulted in a perfect blend of seasonal flavors.

These can be made ahead, needing only to be heated in the oven when
entertaining, or, served at room temperature, would be a great with wine or
cocktails. We’ve definitely added it to our list of vegetarian entrees.

Four servings:

Approximately 2 pounds best quality eggplants (enough for at least 16 slices)
2 cups fresh soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons fresh pesto, made without the Parmesan or Pecorino (see
pesto
recipe)
Fresh tomato sauce sufficient to lightly coat casserole and to drizzle over
eggplant (or substitute your own sauce)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and coarsely ground pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped just before serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice eggplant into thin slices – lengthwise for thin eggplants, crosswise for
plump varieties. If using thin, curved eggplant, place it convex side down on the
board while slicing – when cooked it will fold easily over the filling. Lightly salt
slices and brush both sides with a small amount of olive oil. Line a shallow
baking pan with parchment paper or use a non stick pan, and place eggplant in a
single layer. Cook until just soft, 15 – 20 minutes.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of cheese, and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to remainder,
along with the pesto. Mix thoroughly, adding more oil if the mixture seems dry.
Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed. Lightly film a shallow baking dish
with tomato sauce. Place a tablespoon of the cheese mixture over ½ of each slice,
fold the other half over the cheese and place into casserole. Drizzle eggplant
lightly with a scant amount of tomato sauce – it is to add flavor and keep the
eggplant moist, not to be a major component of the dish. Top each slice with a
small piece of goat cheese and place into the oven. When cheese begins to melt
and soften and interior is hot (check with a thermometer or a metal probe), serve,
sprinkled with basil.

Because arugula and goat cheese perfectly complement each other, this dish was
served with a salad of our very young arugula with a trace of balsamic vinegar
dressing (1 part aged balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil or walnut oil)

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.
 
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Eggplant with Goat Cheese and Pesto.  Click here for more recipes..
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