Biologists question the idea that there are female and male eggplant fruits. Yet it’s proven that those with more seeds are more bitter. And there seems to be an obvious way to tell which has more seeds. So maybe we need to tap some cooking biologists.
To figure out which is which – look at their bottoms. A male has a roundish blossom mark on the end. The female one’s elongated. Sometimes they are hard to tell apart; but the female is generally the larger fruit.
Two ways to approach this – forget the biology (the plants self-pollinate, making the fruit neither sex – that’s where the science comes from) and pretend there are male and female eggplants. Or, just choose smaller eggplants (or white ones) that have fewer and smaller seeds – and are therefore less bitter. Who cares what sex they are?
Slice and bake slowly
Friend and Italian cook Jim Furci of Boynton Beach makes eggplant Parmigiana frequently, and learned that slow baking takes out the bitterness without salting the eggplant to extract liquids.
He slices them, and puts them on an oiled baking tray, sprinkles with a little salt, and puts them in a 170 degree oven for 2 or more hours. He flips the eggplant slices, and rotates the trays around in his oven during the process several times. Then proceeds to fry them for the recipe, layering them with sauce and cheese.
I take it even further – and eschew frying all together. I brush the eggplant with a little oil, sprinkle with salt and bake the eggplant slices till done in a hotter oven – 375 degrees – turning once. I then layer with sauce and cheese, as Furci does.
You can make the dish as individual eggplant parms – stacking three or four slices with cheese in between and pouring sauce over them in a baking dish. Bake as usual. Serve one or two stacks per plate. It’s nicer looking, I think – but doesn’t result in the saucy dish that Furci likes for dipping his bread in.
Either method will freeze well before or after baking.