SEMI MELANZANA ROSSA DI ROTONDA
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History and origins of the red aubergine
The traditional purple aubergine is called Solanum melongena: it is native to India and came to Europe in the Middle Ages. The red one, although very similar in appearance, belongs to a different species, S. aethiopicum, and comes instead from tropical Africa.
It was introduced in Italy in the first half of the twentieth century by some farmers from Lucania who had gone to those areas during colonization and who had appreciated the marked resistance to drought and heat, as well as the good taste. Interest increased during the war: in the southern regions it represented an important source of livelihood in times of famine.
The cultivation on a large scale is still very widespread in Basilicata and in some areas of Umbria: it is considered essential for many typical preparations and has obtained the DOP (Red Eggplant of Rotonda).
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Characteristics of the red aubergine
The plant is, overall, very similar to that of the common eggplant, but is characterized by coloring and size of the fruit: they are in fact smaller, with a diameter of about 8 cm. The skin is initially dark green and then turn to light orange that will become gradually more intense, until it appears almost red. Overall, the product could easily be mistaken for a tomato.
The flesh is firm and fleshy and, unlike the most common species, does not blacken if exposed to air because of the low content of chlorogenic acid. The taste is also characteristic, only slightly bitterish and spicy: the acidulous notes and fruity tones that make it look more like the tomato or even the prickly pears are marked instead.
How the red aubergine is grown
The cultivation technique is similar to that of the common aubergine. Usually, in order to obtain early harvests, it is sown indoors, between February and April: germination requires high temperatures (at least 20°C), light and a good level of humidity. Transplanting is carried out between May and the beginning of June, when the plants have reached a height of at least 9 cm: it is recommended to distance them at least 40 cm between the rows and on the row.
For balcony cultivation, a pot of at least 35 cm depth and diameter is recommended. The soil must be rich, deep tilled and well drained: let’s add a good quantity of manure at the beginning of the season and then integrate it with a synthetic product rich in potassium. In summer we never lack water.
Red Eggplant Harvest
Harvesting usually begins in the south at the beginning of July, while for the north, in the open field, it is necessary to wait until August. Unlike the purple one, which is harvested early to avoid the bitter taste and presence of seeds, the red aubergine must be harvested completely ripe, then with the skin well colored and flesh slightly yielding to the touch. Another peculiarity is that it can be eaten both when cooked and when raw.
Red aubergines are mostly used when fresh, but it is also quite common to hang them, like tomatoes, to dry them: in this way they remain perfectly throughout the winter period. When fresh, the product can be kept in the fridge for about a week.
The red eggplant: Uses of the red eggplant
The red eggplant is very versatile in the kitchen. The Lucanian recipe books are rich in ideas: they can be made in oil and vinegar (and then preserved in a jar), but are also excellent grilled, stewed or as a basis for a summer caponata. Thanks to its round shape and small size, it is particularly suitable for filling: tradition suggests the use of caciocavallo or sausage. However, it is also an excellent container for rice or couscous, to be au gratin then in the oven.
Putting a plant in the garden, however, will allow us to discover another peculiar characteristic: in Africa and India are usually consumed even the leaves. They are excellent stewed, like spinach, but they are also good as a wrapper for rolls or for the preparation of omelettes.
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