Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini is a celebration of summer food at its best, and this recipe embodies the beautiful simplicity of Sicilian cuisine — layers of grilled eggplant are topped with a savory sauce of blistered tomatoes, onion and fresh basil for a dish that is healthy, colorful, easy to make and delicious.

With just seven main ingredients, this simple summer side dish can be on your table in about 30 minutes, from start to finish. We enjoy it as an appetizer or side dish, and it is also hearty enough to enjoy as a terrific vegan entree.

Eggplant is a beloved vegetable in Sicilian cuisine, and while it may be available in our supermarkets throughout the year, it is at its best when freshly picked. The eggplant for this occasion was locally grown by Driscoll Farms in Glyndon, Minn., and you can find them at The Market at West Acres on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays this summer in Fargo.

Size matters when purchasing eggplant, and we tend to pick ours when they are medium to medium-large in size for the best flavor. I used the classic, egg-shaped Imperial Black Beauty eggplant for this recipe, but you can adapt it to whatever variety of eggplant you prefer.

The eggplant is sliced in quarter-inch rounds and brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and then grilled on each side until grill marks are achieved. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The eggplant is sliced in quarter-inch rounds and brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and then grilled on each side until grill marks are achieved. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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Before grilling, the eggplant is sliced into quarter-inch rounds, with the skin on, and then brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoning. I used to cover the slices with salt to remove the excess liquid and any bitterness, but I gave that practice up long ago and have never looked back.

A clean, hot and well-lubricated grill will ensure that the eggplant cooks quickly and evenly without sticking to the grates. The eggplant should be cooked until grill marks are achieved on each side, which only takes about two to three minutes per side. It can be cooked up to three days in advance and either reheated or served at room temperature.

For the sauce, thinly sliced onion is cooked with garlic until soft and translucent, and you can use yellow, white or red onion for this recipe. To keep the garlic from overwhelming the dish, I slice one clove in half or quarters so that I can pull it out before adding the tomatoes.

Thinly sliced onion is sauteed with a clove of garlic to create the aromatics for Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Thinly sliced onion is sauteed with a clove of garlic to create the aromatics for Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

For added depth of flavor, I add a generous splash of white wine once the onions are ready and let the mixture simmer until the liquid is reduced, which also allows the alcohol content to evaporate.

Garden-fresh cherry tomatoes are featured in today’s dish, and grape tomatoes would also work well. The tomatoes are cooked with the aromatics and fresh basil (a must for this dish) until they are blistered and juicy, and then a splash of water is added at the end to create a sauce consistency.

A pint of cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves are cooked with the onion and garlic until the skins begin to blister and the juices spill out. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A pint of cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves are cooked with the onion and garlic until the skins begin to blister and the juices spill out. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The sauce can be prepared up to two days in advance, and would also be great over grilled bread, fish or chicken. Once the sauce is ready, the eggplant is layered in stacks of three or four slices with the sauce poured over the top.

Filled with fresh garden flavor, Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini is a simple, stunning and delicious dish to add to your summer repertoire.

Sarah's Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini is an edible walk through the garden featuring the best of Sicilian summer flavors. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini is an edible walk through the garden featuring the best of Sicilian summer flavors. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Grilled Eggplant Pomodorini

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Serves: 4 as a side dish or appetizer, or 1 to 2 as a vegan entree

Ingredients for the eggplant:

1 medium-large eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch rounds, skin on

Extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

Ingredients for Pomodorini sauce:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced (yellow, white or red all work), about 1/3 cup

1 large clove garlic, peeled and cut into halves or quarters

¼ cup dry white wine

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (slice grape tomatoes lengthwise)

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of ground pepper

¼ cup water

Fresh basil, to taste (either small leaves or torn into pieces)

Directions:

To prepare the grill, clean off any grime, brush the grill with vegetable oil (to prevent the eggplant from sticking) and preheat on high to about 400 degrees.

Place the eggplant rounds on a baking sheet. Brush tops with extra-virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper; flip the eggplant rounds and repeat on the other side.

Place the eggplant rounds on the hot grill and cook over direct heat until grill marks are achieved on the bottoms, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip eggplant rounds and repeat on the other side. Once grill marks are present on both sides, remove rounds from the grill and place on a baking sheet.

To prepare the Pomodorini sauce, in a medium pan, add the olive oil, onions and garlic and cook over medium-high heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the white wine and continue to cook over medium-high heat until the liquid reduces by at least half, about 2 minutes. Once reduced, you can remove the garlic chunks, if desired.

Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the tomatoes just begin to break down, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the tomatoes simmer until the juices are released and the skin is split and blistered, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the water and fresh basil leaves and increase the heat to medium; cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and add seasoning as desired.

On a serving platter or plates, create eggplant towers by stacking 3 or 4 slices, and then spoon the sauce generously over each tower.

Sarah’s Notes:

  • To serve the dish completely hot, grill the eggplant as the tomatoes are simmering.
  • The eggplant can be prepared up to 3 days before using, and reheated or served at room temperature.
  • The sauce can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, and reheated or served at room temperature.
  • The sauce would also be great over grilled bread, fish and chicken.
  • For another variation, place slices of fresh mozzarella between each layer of eggplant.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.