Big, floppy discs of eggplant begone. Sad, soggy flaps of squash stay away. It’s summer, and there’s so many types and sizes of seasonal produce about, why not grab all the good ones instead? Like these tiny, tender, baby eggplants and pattypan squash, a fun change of pace within their familiar family of plants.
I grabbed the smallest fairy eggplants from an Asian farmers’ market in San Francisco in favor of the long, tubular varieties more commonly found there. I get a slight fetish for diminutive foods around this time of year, as if to convince myself that I’ll wind up eating less. But in the case of eggplant, the quail egg-sized baby varieties are perfect for simply slicing in half and grilling with the skins on, providing more textural contrast and ease.
This recipe took a few turns before arriving at its outcome; at first I’d wanted to make a “deconstructed” eggplant parm, then I noticed Melissa Clark had gotten to that perfectly already. Then, I didn’t even see any fresh mozzarella at the Latin grocery stores closest to where I was staying in the Mission District. Instead, a very similar fresh cheese was widely available: queso fresco. And, lots of limes.
So in something of a mix between a crumbled caprese salad and apt filling for a vegetable taco, this warm salad was thrown together at a friend’s barbecue party. Since I’d also picked out lovely blossom-shaped pattypan squashes (only the smallest of the lot, too) at the farmers’ market, these were given a rough chop in just halves or thirds, and tossed on the grill as well. The bright acidity of some fresh tomatoes and lime juice blend well with the taste of burntness from the grill (which I highly recommend you give the vegetables a little bit of). And the fresh cow’s milk cheese — whether Mexican or Italian in tradition — coddles it with a hint of richness.
Only problem was that once it was made, fresh basil for garnish didn’t seem right anymore. If only one could travel with an herb garden, there’d be cilantro in the photo at top, as well.
Grilled Baby Eggplant & Pattypan Squash with Queso Fresco & Lime
(makes 4-6 servings)
1 lb baby eggplants
1/2 lb small pattypan squashes
2 medium ripe tomatoes
4-6 oz. queso fresco
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Trim stems and halve the eggplants. Sprinkle cut surfaces with sea salt and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Squeeze eggplants to drain any moisture.
Cut pattypan squashes into thirds or halves, or pieces of similar size to the eggplant halves.
Toss eggplant and squash pieces in a bowl with generous pinches of salt and pepper, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Heat up a grill very hot. Grill vegetables cut sides-down for 4-6 minutes, or until slightly charred and softened. You may want to turn squashes well before the eggplant pieces, depending on the sizes. Cook eggplants on opposite sides until pieces feel soft and cooked through to the touch.
Cut tomatoes into slices and arrange along the bottom of a serving dish. Place the grilled vegetables on top, and top with the lime juice, queso fresco, and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.