Botanical name: Solanum melongena
Origins and history
An unmissable component of the Mediterranean diet and dishes linked to the summer is the aubergine, the fruit of a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family (such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers), whose Latin name is solanum melongena. This name was assigned at a later time as the origins of this plant with its tasty and versatile fruits comes from India and China and was introduced in Europe by the Arabs. Initially it was given different names than the current one, then reaching the final nomenclature which literally means "unhealthy apple" (as in fact the fruit of this plant is not edible when raw).
It is also ascertained that in the Middle Ages the consumption of this vegetable was practically non-existent as it was linked to a sort of superstition according to which eating aubergines caused madness.
Currently the production is on a world scale, even if this vegetable requires special soils, large quantities of fertilizer and warm climates. The largest producer, also in accordance with the origins of the plant, remains China, but also the Mediterranean basin thanks to its more than favorable climate is well suited to cultivation. There are many varieties of aubergine, so much so that it can be considered the fruit that includes most of the cultivated and marketed varieties.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of Aubergine
From a nutritional point of view, it is important to remember that this vegetable contains solanine, a substance that becomes toxic in excessive quantities and is present and potentially dangerous in the raw fruit. The solanine dissolves with cooking, making consumption absolutely safe. The presence of very few calories makes this product particularly suitable for low-calorie diets; the important thing is the type of cooking, as the spongy consistency of this delicious purple fruit leads to the absorption of any type of seasoning (for example oil).
It also contains a large amount of fiber which helps the intestine in its correct and regular functioning; it also contains a lot of water, which promotes diuresis and proper liver function - it seems to favor the production of bile. There are also uses in traditional medicine, given its origins; it seems that the product has anti-inflammatory properties, which are also found in the leaves of the plant itself, which are apparently used to treat inflammation and abscesses.
The nutritional values see the presence mostly of water, a few grams of carbohydrates, and fiber. At the level of mineral salts there are mostly potassium, phosphorus, sodium and calcium. They are also a source of vitamins A, B and C.
Use of the Aubergine in the kitchen
As mentioned earlier, there are several types of eggplant: long, globose, purple. In any case, to make sure that the fruit we are going to buy is fresh, check its consistency. The peel must be tight and free from bruises, and the petiole must be dry and still attached to the berry. It can be kept in the fridge but no longer than 4 or 5 days, otherwise it tends to blacken inside and become even more bitter than it normally is.
The main characteristic of the fruit is the bitter taste; to eliminate the problem before cooking and eating, it is advisable to cut the aubergine into thick slices, cover it with coarse salt, and let the excess water come out taking away the bitterness which would then make the tasting not too pleasant.
Once this operation has been carried out, there are numerous uses that can be made of it; in particular it is the Sicilian cuisine that makes extensive use of it, crowning Pasta alla Norma as the queen of first courses (it is a dish composed of pasta perhaps of durum wheat, topped with tomato sauce, basil, fried eggplant in cubes and sprinkled with salted ricotta). In any case, perhaps the most famous of the typically Italian recipes that contain this delicious product is the parmigiana, which celebrates its perfect combination with the fragrant tomato and the delicious fiordilatte mozzarella.
There is also a legend that decrees the birth of this historic and amazing dish; tells of a woman who at the Vucciria market in Palermo loses sight of her child, only to find him playing near the counter of an Arab man. While playing, the child had dropped some "petrociane" (one of the ancient names of the aubergine) and she had been forced to buy them even though she didn't know what to do with them. Once back in the house, "tormented" by her hungry son, she took inspiration from the light that filtered from the slats of the shutters on the windows, which in Palermo are called parmiciane. By alternating vegetables, tomato sauce and cheese, he seems to have invented one of the cornerstones of Italian cuisine renowned all over the world.