As a young student of the piano I practiced Mozart’s Ah vous dirai-je, Maman, twelve variations on a French tune we English-speaking people know as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. A simple six-note melody becomes a work of art in the master’s hands. More than an exercise in composing in different styles, each variation conveys a personality all its own. From the graceful to the frenetic, from the humorous to the spooky, it’s a marvel how certain notes played in a specific way can come to life with character and feeling.
Life would feel pretty monotonous if we only played those same six notes over and over. In the realm of gastronomy, there are lots of great cookbooks that develop variations on a single-food theme. Rachel Ray’s The Book of Burger, Beatrice Ojakangas’s The Best Casserole Book Ever, Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy, and Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood are just a few. It makes me wonder how far I could get with a versatile food like eggplant.
Parmesan and ratatouille,
Meat-stuffed and rollatini,
In a salad or ragout
Use it in your veggie stew
Roasted, baked, grilled, or fried
Balsamic drizzle on the side
Slice it, dice it, chunks, or strips
In any shape can cross my lips!
Eggplant Grill Stack – The Theme
- 1 eggplant
- 2 large tomatoes, cut in thick, round slices
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella
- Fresh basil
- Olive oil
- Coarse salt
- Garlic Powder
- Balsamic dressing, fresh basil, and Italian herbs for serving
- Peel the eggplant and cut it into ½ inch rounds.
- Brush each side with olive oil and season with the salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Cut the same number of slices of tomato and mozzarella.
- Grill one side of the eggplant slices for a couple of minutes.
- Turn the eggplant slice over and build the stack with a slice of mozzarella cheese and tomato.
- Grill until the cheese begins to melt.
- Serve with fresh basil, Italian herbs, and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Peeling the eggplant is my preference. We use a grilling tray on the barbecue so nothing falls through the cracks. I lay out the slices of tomato and cheese for easy access on a board so the grill chef can build the stacks quickly.
Eggplant Stack – The Variations
- The eggplant. The theme’s seasonings of salt, pepper, and garlic favor classic / Italian. A Middle Eastern take might add chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Indian seasonings for eggplant may include turmeric, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Thyme also works well for eggplant and ground coriander adds citrus notes.
- The tomato. When those big meaty local tomatoes aren’t available, substitute with bruschetta. Grill the eggplant and cheese and add the bruschetta on the plate. Bruschetta made with Parmesan cheese provides a “cheese on cheese” experience. Pizza lovers who sprinkle Parmesan cheese on a cheese pizza know what I mean.
- The cheese. The theme’s fresh mozzarella can be swapped with a variety of well-melting cheeses. Fontina is one of our favorites. A spreadable cheese like herb and garlic Boursin, added on the plate, is also terrific.
- The dressings. A balsamic vinegar dressing is suggested for our theme, but honestly, I can go naked. For a non-dairy variation, replace the cheese with tahini sauce and a sprinkle of paprika.