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Growing up to eight inches in length, Italian eggplants elongated and wider at the blossom-end. Their glossy, indigo-black skin is thick and the flesh is a creamy white color. The texture of an Italian eggplant is succulent and porous like a sponge; when cooked the flesh becomes creamy and tender.
Eggplant is actually a perennial fruit, (agriculturallly grown as an annual) as it bears seeds within its body; it is classified as a berry.
Eggplant skin contains 'nasunin,' a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger that protects cell membranes from damage. Nasunin protects the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes.
The eggplant's sponge-like texture qualities allow it to easily take on flavorings. Cube, saute in garlic and toss with diced peppers, tomatoes and fresh pasta. Slice eggplant into rounds, layer in a baking dish with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, then bake into eggplant parmesan. Half eggplant and roast until flesh is very soft and cooked, then puree with yogurt, garlic and olive oil into baba ganoush. Saute diced eggplant with chopped swiss chard and onions, then add vegetable mixture to beaten eggs and bake into a frittata. Eggplant will keep, dry and refrigerated, for one to two weeks.
The first clear reference to the eggplant in Sicily is from 1309, where they are called melingianas and are grown in a garden along with cucumbers and a kind of gourd. There are dozens of Italian varieties of eggplants grown today, both heirloom and hybrid, including Listada de Gandia, Rotonda Bianca di Imola, Cucuzzi, Prosperosa, Vittoria PS, Violette di Firenze and Nadia (to name a few).