Garden Recipe: Tomato Eggplant Mozzarella Stack
This garden- or farmers market-ready recipe brings together two of the season's best: tomato and eggplant!
Hot Tomato! (+ Cool Eggplant)
This late summer, early fall recipe shows off your tomatoes in a simple, classic way by pairing them with eggplant, a garden companion that grows well alongside heirloom tomatoes. Both of these nightshade beauties will also be bountiful in the markets this time of year.
If growing your own tomatoes is not in the cards, shop for heirloom varieties or dry farmed tomatoes that will have better flavor. The best test is to use your nose. If it smells like a tomato it will taste like one.
It is wise to choose eggplant specimens with shiny, firm skin. Once they lose their shine they are focusing on seed production making them more bitter so they are not as tender, soft and sweet. (Same goes for zucchini.)
This dish can be served at room temperature and is perfect as a starter or side dish for any occasion, be it casual or chic.
Tomato Eggplant Mozzarella Stack
Makes 4 stacks
1 large shiny, firm-skinned Italian globe eggplant cut into 8 1/2-inch rounds
2 large homegrown or heirloom tomatoes each cut into 4 slices
8 ounces fresh, buffalo mozzarella rounds
1/4 cup (plus more as desired) good olive oil
Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh tomato sauce (recipe follows), pesto or balsamic reduction (for serving)
Salt the sliced eggplant rounds generously and let them sit for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Wipe the liquid and salt off of your eggplant rounds with a dry paper towel or clean dishcloth. (Do not rinse the eggplant.)
When the oil is sizzling, fry the eggplant rounds in a single layer until golden brown then flip them to brown the second side. Add more oil as needed. They can soak up a lot of olive oil, which will make them tender and delicious. Fry in batches if necessary, setting browned rounds aside to cool slightly. (If you prefer to use your grill for cooking, be sure to brush the eggplant generously with oil as you go and cook them all the way through.)
Now you are ready to stack! Alternating the tomatoes, cheese slices and eggplant rounds, layer them into a nice stack matching the circumference size of each ingredient as best as you can to keep them even. Lightly salt and pepper the layers as you go.
Top with fresh basil leaves and drizzle a bit of balsamic, pesto or fresh tomato sauce over the top of your stacks if you like, but they are delicious kept simple as well.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
TIP: The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and freezes beautifully in an airtight container.
2 pounds organic Roma tomatoes (or whatever kind you have growing in your garden)
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more if desired)
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sea salt (plus more to taste)
Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Carve out the stem tops of each tomato and then make a small cross incision on the opposite end of the tomato, at its base.
Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and leave them for a minute until the skins split. Take them out with a strainer and peel off the tomato skins, being careful not to burn your fingers. Place the peeled tomatoes in a blender or food processor and give them a whirl. You can blend until smooth if you like or leave them a little chunky if more texture is preferred.
TIP: Want more control over the consistency of the tomatoes in your sauce? You can use a potato masher to get your desired texture.
Gently warm the olive oil over low heat in a medium to large sauce pan. Add the garlic and cook for only 30 seconds. Do not let the garlic brown. Pour the blended tomatoes into the garlic oil and add salt. Taste and sprinkle in more salt if you like.
On the Side
Notes and tidbits about this month’s ingredients.
Increase plant productivity
If you remove suckers at the base of the plant, you’ll get fewer heirloom tomatoes but the fruit will be larger. Be sure to stake them for support.
Eggplants and tomatoes come to harvest in late summer when they start to bear edible-sized veggies and fruit. If it gets hot, shade plants the last couple of weeks before harvesting. Also reduce water at that time. Use a sharp knife or hand-pruner to harvest eggplants as the stem can be tough and hard. If tomatoes don’t easily come off the vine, use scissors to snip the vine. Pick eggplants while they are still shiny. For tomatoes, harvest them while they are still green as they should ripen off the vine.
Look for eggplants with unblemished smooth, shiny skins and a plant that feels heavy when you pick it up. The skin should give slightly when you press on it. Check tomatoes for denseness (unripe tomatoes are light to the touch), deep coloring, and a strong, sweet, earthy smell.
Value in versatility
You can roast, fry, bake, grill, stir-fry, sauté or stuff tomatoes. You can use them fresh in salads, on pizzas, on top of pasta, in your sandwiches and, of course, on top of burgers. But here’s a twist you may not have heard about: Sprinkle tomatoes with brown sugar for a strawberry-like taste.
If eggplant skin is thin and tender, you can skip the peeling. Give slices room in the frying pan so they can brown and caramelize, and use plenty of oil or butter—eggplant soaks up fat fast.
Heirloom Tomato Growing Conditions
For rich, juicy, tender heirloom tomatoes give them plenty of light, water and fertilizer.
Sun: Plant heirloom tomatoes where they will get direct sunlight all day long.
Soil: Heirlooms need healthy soil that’s rich, loamy and well-draining.
Irrigation: Water deeply and never let the plants dry out.
Feed: Fertilize regularly with organic or a chemically balanced, all-purpose fertilizer.