Eggplants have a lot in common with summer squash and zucchini, including their mild flavor, summer harvest and quick cooking times. You can bake eggplants as you would summer squash, but not winter squash. Winter squashes, such as butternut and acorn squashes, have a hard rind and need a longer cooking time to become tender.
Preparation for baking eggplants is similar to that of preparing summer squash. Choose small eggplants with firm, smooth skins. Avoid those that seem spongy or have soft spots. Wash the eggplants and run them under cold water. You can leave the skins on tender, young eggplants, but you'll want to peel older eggplants because the skins are thick and tough. One notable difference between squash and eggplants is that eggplants tend to contain a lot of water. This water can make dishes made with eggplant taste bland and soggy. Cut the eggplants into cubes or strips and salt the pieces well. Wait five to 10 minutes and then rinse the pieces, drain and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Mix It Up
When it comes to cooking eggplants in the oven, you can use either dry or wet cooking methods, just as you would summer squash. Simmer eggplants and other vegetables with juicy tomato chunks for a delicious ratatouille, or crank up the heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or more and roast eggplants instead. Set them on a baking sheet with some olive oil, herbs and salt, and roast them until they're tender, but golden-brown.
Another thing eggplants have in common with summer squash is their affinity for savory herbs and flavorings. Winter squash is most often paired with sweet flavorings -- think maple syrup, brown sugar, toasted pecans and cinnamon. Summer squash and eggplants, on the other hand, pair well with rosemary, basil, summer savory, thyme and dill. Aromatic vegetables, such as onions and garlic, also complement the flavor of eggplants and summer squash.
Like most summer vegetables, including squash, eggplants don't need a lot of cooking time because they're already somewhat soft. The line between tender and mushy is a thin one, so watch them closely. In general, baked eggplants need between 20 and 30 minutes of cooking time. Whole or stuffed eggplants need more cooking time than cubed ones. Be sure to wrap any leftovers tightly or place them in a covered container and refrigerate them at 40 F. for three to four days.
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