There’s nothing like a little pressure to squelch creativity. Right after we announced our plans to release a Big Ranch Farms cookbook this summer I ran into Brian Streeter, an extraordinarily talented chef who I basically idolize. He said he was looking forward to seeing the BRF book.
The idea of Brian wanting to see my book flipped a switch in my head and all progress on creating new recipes for fast starters screeched to a halt.
Until, finally it was kick started when I spotted the first eggplant of the season in a basket behind the cucumbers, the zucchini and the beets at BRF’s farm stand last weekend. And, voila, the idea for eggplant sliders was born.
I toyed with a fresh tomato slice or a spoonful of marinara…a small sourdough roll or a soft dinner roll…a basil leaf or a smear of pesto. I thought about what “Italian food” tasted like growing up and realized it had to be a doughy, yeasty roll, just a simple basil leaf and definitely marinara—more eggplant parm like.
This recipe was so easy and we liked it so much we ate it two days in a row. They are pretty filling so they’d be great for a party in the backyard with cocktails—anything made with compari would be a plus. Depending on the size of the roll, two to three also make a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Serves 6 to 12
2 large Japanese eggplants
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
12 small, soft dinner rolls, cut in half
3/4 cup prepared Marinara sauce (Whole Foods 365 brand is a fave of mine)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella log, cut into 12 slices
12 large basil leaves
Wash and cut the ends away from the eggplant. Cut each into 12 thin slices (about 1/4-inch thick) on the diagonal. Arrange in a single layer in a colander and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the eggplant. Let sit for about 15 minutes while you prep the remaining ingredients.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and as many eggplant slices that will fit in a single layer. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cook the next batch, adding oil as needed. (The eggplant will soak up the olive oil.)
Open the bread rolls on a flat surface and put a tablespoon of marinara sauce on the bottom half of each roll. Top with two slices of eggplant, a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Replace the top and serve.
Note: While it may be tempting to heat these sandwiches they are much better at room temperature.
What to drink: A Negroni would be delish, but a glass of Rose, such as Stepping Stone, a bone-dry rose made from Syrah, would just as easily hit the spot and then some.