In his authoritative 1891 book on Italian cooking, La Scienza in Cucina e l’arte di Mangiar Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), Pellegrino Artusi wrote: “Forty years ago you could hardly find either eggplant or fennel in the markets here in Florence, because they were considered Jewish food and abhorred.” Artusi was correct that Jews, who knew about eggplants from Baghdad and Iran, brought this member of the nightshade family to Italy and other countries. But as I walked through the streets of Florence this week, after a delicious Italian Jewish lunch at the Mama Florence Cooking School, I could see how attitudes about eggplant have changed in northern Italy. Today, few Italians “abhor” eggplant, which is now a staple of Mediterranean cooking.
Throughout my life of eating in homes and restaurants around the world, I’ve always ordered eggplant where I’ve found it on the menu, and I often beg the cook for the recipe. This burnt eggplant salad, which I adapted from Israeli chef and cookbook author Erez Komorovsky and Toto Restaurant in Tel Aviv, looks beautiful on the plate and has a lovely, smoky flavor from the flames of the grill, gas stove, or open fire. Like the eggplant itself, the toppings can easily adapt to suit your own tastes.
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