The eggplant is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, along with tomatoes, peppers and tobacco. Native to India and southeast Asia, eggplants were introduced to Europe in the 6th century by Moorish invaders. Europeans regarded eggplants with suspicion and referred to them as "mad apples." Today they are staple ingredients in Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines.
To grow eggplants, sow seeds indoors, 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep, 6 weeks before the Chicago area's average last frost date of May 15. Seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days. As seedlings grow, transfer to 4-inch pots. Plant outside 2 weeks after last frost in soil amended with well-rotted manure or compost. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
Eggplant thrives in heat and is very sensitive to cold. Harvest when fruit reaches specified size and skin is smooth and glossy, before the flesh softens and seeds begin to color.
Grilled Eggplant and Pesto Sandwich
1 1/2 pound eggplant,
2 ounces lemon juice (fresh)
3 ounces olive oil
1/2 ounce garlic, chopped
1/2 ounce fresh basil (chopped)
4 French baguettes
6 ounces Boursin cheese
1/2 cup sun-dried tomato pesto
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Preheat grill to 350 degrees.
Combine eggplant, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Grill eggplant till browned on both sides. Then chill.
To assemble sandwich:
Slice baguette in half.
Spread 2 tablespoons of cheese on
Top with 3 slices of eggplant.
Spread 2 tablespoons of pesto on