I have a healthy respect for deadly things - rattlesnakes, bungee jumping, vampires... I realize that it's a dangerous world with things that should make me afraid, and I avoid them. Transylvania, I'm so not there, however, I have never felt threatened by eggplant. Many people think that this is foolish because eggplant along with tomatoes, peppers and potatoes belong to a family of plants called solanacea, usually referred to as "nightshades". Now the nightshade family also includes some very toxic plants - belladonna (THE deadly nightshade), jimsonweed and mandrake. These contain a powerful alkaloid, atropine. (Atropine is named after the Fate in Greek mythology who chooses how a person is to die). Yes, atropine is a powerful hallucinogenic and could kill you. It also has many medicinal uses and it is not the alkaloid found in eggplant or the rest of the parmigiana ingredients. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and their mild mannered cousins suffer guilt by association.
The principle alkaloid found in eggplant and its relatives, solanine, is greatly reduced by cooking. (Actually there are therapeutic uses of this compound too.) Hmmm maybe there was a reason that all Italian grandmothers cooked their tomato sauce for hours on end. People with arthritis are commonly told to avoid the nightshade group. The thought is that the solanine causes bones to excrete calcium which is then deposited into soft tissue. I'm not sure about this. I don't think they eat a lot of eggplant in Sweden, for example, and people still get arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Eggplant is a bit of a contradiction. According to some sources it's both yin and yang. It is cooling in nature and affects the Large Intestine, Stomach and Spleen. It is sweet and can tonify Qi and Blood, but it is also clearing and moving. It has a descending quality that sedates yang so it could be useful for someone with hypertension. It clears toxic heat and is often used in the treatment of skin diseases like mastitis and because it moves Blood, eggplant can also be helpful in the treatment and prevention of menstrual cramps. It builds, it moves, it clears, it seems pretty perfect to me.
The very sensitive should perhaps test a nightshade free lifestyle for a few weeks to see if it makes any difference in any arthritic symptoms. You never know. The rest of us should consider how eggplant can make us happy. Can one get expanded consciousness from eating eggplant? Try this out.
My mother made classic eggplant parmigiana. My cousin, Thelma, made eggplant rollatini. I could never figure out which one I liked best so I combined them. I also grilled (in Manhattan that means broiled) the eggplant slices instead of frying them. This does two things: it makes the dish lighter and also makes the eggplant sweeter. Then you layer the eggplant as you would in making a parmigiana, but alternate layers of mozzarella and ricotta cheese.
Eggplant, fear not. It will bring you great joy.