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Grilled Eggplant with Marjoram Sauce (Melanzana alla Griglia con Maggiorana)

Mela insana, "mad apple," was the name given to eggplant by early Italian botanists because it was believed the vegetable was poisonous and capable of causing insanity. Eggplant was cultivated for the beauty of its flowers and glossy fruits rather than for the kitchen. Today, there are many varieties of eggplant, both solid and striped, in a rainbow of skin colors, including purple, violet, white and green.

Salting eggplant is a precautionary step to eliminate bitter juices. If your eggplant is very fresh, you can skip this step. Fresh marjoram complements grilled eggplant. If it is not available, fresh basil, parsley, mint or oregano are delicious alternatives.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggplant, each about 12 oz., cut crosswise into
      slices 1/2 inch thick
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for
      brushing
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Layer the eggplant slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Top with a plate and a heavy weight such as a pot. Let stand for 1 hour to drain off the bitter juices. Rinse off the salt and pat the slices dry with paper towels.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a broiler.

To prepare the marjoram sauce, in a small bowl, stir together the 1/4 cup olive oil, marjoram, garlic, lemon zest and pepper. Set aside.

Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil. Place on the grill rack or on a broiler pan and grill or broil, turning once, until browned and tender, about 5 minutes per side.

Arrange the eggplant slices, overlapping them, on a serving plate. Spoon on the marjoram sauce and let stand until serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books, 1999).