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Summer fare: Eggplant -- a beauty to behold

By Emily Nunn Chicago Tribune It's seems sad to cut into the gorgeous, shiny deep purple skin of an eggplant just to make a meal. And perhaps that's why some people buy them but never cook them, as if they were mere decoration, like those fancy, ...

By Emily Nunn

Chicago Tribune

It's seems sad to cut into the gorgeous, shiny deep purple skin of an eggplant just to make a meal. And perhaps that's why some people buy them but never cook them, as if they were mere decoration, like those fancy, frilly leafed cabbages you see in bank landscaping and house magazines.

But beauty is not nearly as enduring as deliciousness, and if you don't seize the day, your eggplants will end up sad and wrinkled on your kitchen counter, just like we all might, having never really lived their lives to the fullest.

One of our favorite ways to eat it, however, actually comes from an old-fashioned cookbook.

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We first prepared and ate this recipe for eggplant with linguine back in the early 1980s, when the idea of "health food" meant vegetables with loads of butter and sour cream, as in the vegetable stroganoff recipe in Mollie Katzen's 1977 "Moosewood Cookbook." In all these years, through all the food fashions, we never stopped making this dreamy eggplant dish from the same book; it's full of great flavor and texture without lots of added fat, depending on how easy you go on the Parmesan. We've added extra tomato and some grated zucchini to tip the scales on the side of the vegetables; more garlic doesn't hurt, either.

Summer Harvest Linguine

2 tablespoons each: olive oil, butter

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes

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1 pound mushrooms, chopped

4 medium tomatoes chopped

1 large red or yellow bell pepper, seeded, chopped

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

¼ cup tomato paste

4 black oil-cured olives, pitted, chopped

1 large zucchini, grated

1 cup red wine

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½ cup finely chopped parsley

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 pound linguine, cooked per directions

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, onion, ½ teaspoon of the salt and bay leaf; cook, stirring, until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in eggplant and remaining ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, bell pepper, basil and tomato paste. Lower heat to a simmer; cover. Cook 10 minutes. Stir in olives, zucchini, wine, parsley and pepper; cover. Cook about 15 minutes. Stir in cheese. Serve with linguine.

Yield: Serves 6.

Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 474 calories, 14 grams fat, 22 milligrams cholesterol, 69 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams protein, 746 milligrams sodium, 13 grams fiber.

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