The week leading up to a Brown Family Tomato Tasting can turn a house upside down with tomatoes of every shade, shape, and size taking over the tables and countertops, some quick to be rinsed and shined, some still gritty from the vine. There are recipes the color of old, as delicate as lace, and strewn like playing cards across the kitchen island, my mother-in-law’s notes-to-herself crammed into the inches of a margin. 10 lbs pasta not enough, 8 loaves lard bread plenty, more basil needed, less garlic okay. Grocery lists are written, shopping trips are taken, and all the while we help to unload the copious bottles of olive oil and vinegar, the spinach and the eggs, the pine nuts and mozzarella, the cellophane-wrapped packages of appositely chosen red plates, napkins, and cutlery, the tomatoes just keep rolling in, some formed, some warped, but all of them graduated, grown up, and grown with love.
It’s an annual tradition that takes a family of effort, glasses of wine and plenty of whines included, but it’s what sets Browns apart - that intrinsic desire to be of help in any way one can be of help to their family, whoever may need it, whenever it is needed. (VIP friends incorporated.) I’ve always been slightly lovesick over how hard this family works to take care of each other, and how naturally it comes to want to share the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor with a guest list the size of my wedding. I’ve been with Michael going on six years now, which means I have only been around long enough to see six tomatoes crowned king, and this summer’s invitation made a point of saying that retirement looms. Throwing the party is nothing short of hard work, and I realized this more than ever this particular year, but it feels like a tradition too good to see go. There are many ways to bring a family closer together, and the tomato tasting is just one of those ways.
In obliging Brown fashion, I took the day off of work to pitch in and help my (justifiably frazzled) mother-in-law with just one of the many complementary dishes served alongside the starry-eyed tomatoes. Her fried eggplant is the last recipe of attack and we wake early to start cooking platters upon platters of them the morning of the party. It requires full attention, patience, and the use of all five senses. It is my most favorite thing to eat at the party and I’m sure there’s a margin note somewhere that says to make “more than enough” since I’m sure all parties have pointed to the eggplant coming in as runner-up to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place tomatoes. Just in case this was, in fact, the last tomato tasting party ever to be thrown, I’d certainly like to remember the shit out of this recipe.
- olive oil
- pine nuts
- pitted kalamata oives
- apple cider vinegar
Slice the eggplant into rounds and dip each one into a wash of egg and breadcrumbs. Stack them neatly on a plate while you heat a heavy skillet with a good amount of olive oil, enough to cover the rounds about half-way. When the oil starts to make tiny waves, you'll know it's hot enough to start frying. Put as many rounds as you can into the pan. You don't want them on top of one another, but don't be afraid to pack them in. As soon as they hit the pan, you'll hear them start to fry. When the sizzling sound comes down in volume, they're ready to be flipped. Carefully stab at them to check. Are they a nice golden brown? That's the color you want. A little bit crispy, but not too crispy. When the other sides are done frying, remove and place them on a plate with a paper towel. Continue to stack them this way, flip the plate over, and place a heavy plate on top of them all.
In the meantime, combine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar with a couple of large garlic cloves, grated. Shake it up and splay across a platter, laying the eggplant rounds on top. Once the platter is filled with rounds, drizzle some more of it on top. Let the eggplant rest for a few hours before serving.
As a garnish, toast some pine nuts and mix it up with some chopped basil and chopped kalamata olives. Sprinkle over the eggplant before you serve.