I opt to buy most of my produce from farmer’s markets or CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, a type of buyers’ cooperative for farm products), which results in a more seasonal diet than I used to have when I bought all my produce at the supermarket. Though I don’t forbid myself from buying out-of items season (I could not live without citrus!), there are some things I cannot bear to buy out of season, namely the tomato.
I used to buy the bland, watery beefsteak tomatoes available at nearly every supermarket in the United States. I never enjoyed them, and I find their ubiquitous inclusion on restaurant sandwiches confounding since they are so flavorless. I used to try to get around it by buying tomatoes on the vine, but they were not very much better.
Then I tried local tomatoes. My goodness, what a difference! Such flavor! Such vibrant color! Suddenly tomato as a fruit made sense because these tomatoes were definitely tasty enough to eat solo and raw.
When winter came around after this discovery, I couldn’t bring myself to buy tomatoes at the grocery store. I knew the tomatoes would not compare and that I would be disappointed with every bite. So I abstained from using tomatoes in my cooking and eagerly awaited the return of summer–the return of beautiful, local tomatoes. Each summer I find the wait well worth it. Seasonal tomatoes give me one more reason to revel in the summer season.
One of my favorite summer meals to highlight the flavor of tomatoes is eggplant-tomato caprese stacks. The meal is utterly simple– just layers of eggplant, tomato, cheese, and herbs. The simplicity of the meal allows the flavors of the ingredients to shine, so use high quality ingredients including– you guesses it– fresh, in-season tomatoes.
I usually pan-fry the eggplant slices, but you can roast them instead. I used to use olive oil religiously, but I started experimenting with other fats due to concerns of high-heat radicalization, which admittedly may be overblown with regard to olive oil, and the increasing backlash to the seemingly misplaced low-fat dietary gospel. For these eggplant-tomato caprese stacks, I used duck fat, but feel free to use olive oil or coconut oil to keep it vegetarian.
As for cheese, fresh mozzarella is traditional, and you cannot go wrong using it. For extra richness, use burrata. Sometimes to change it up I will use a saltier cheese like feta or queso fresco.
I like to top the stacks with garlic scape pesto, which I make at the start of each summer season. If you don’t have access to scapes or scape pesto, the meal is just as good without it. Use regular basil pesto instead or top with plain basil leaves and raw garlic. Or top with other herbs entirely. Just make it your own!
Eggplant-Tomato Caprese Stacks
A simple dish that highlights the best of summer's flavors
- 1 eggplant
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup water
- 2/3 cup flour
- duck fat, olive oil, coconut oil, or butter as needed
- 2-3 tomatoes in-season
- 1/4 cup garlic-scape pesto use raw garlic or regular basil pesto as a substitute
- 4 oz white cheese fresh mozzarella, burrata, feta, and queso fresco are some of my faves
- basil leaves
- 3/4 cup corn kernels optional
Cut the eggplant into slices about 1/4" thick. Mix the egg and water together. Dredge each slice of eggplant into the flour, then into the egg mixture, and back into the flour. Leave the breaded eggplant slices on a plate for a few minutes so the breading can set.
Slice the tomatoes. Set aside.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. If you are using corn, add a tablespoon of fat or oil to the pan. When hot, toss in the corn and cook until the kernels are cooked. Remove and set aside.
Add enough fat to cover the bottom of the pan. When the fat is hot, cook the eggplant in batches for 4-5 minutes per side, or until the breading is golden brown.
To serve, top each slice of eggplant with garlic scape pesto, cheese, basil leaves, and sliced tomatoes. Top with corn kernels, if using.