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Get ready to eat your way through Loomis’ Eggplant Festival

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Those finding themselves in Loomis on Oct. 4 have the chance to eat more eggplant in one day than most will likely eat all year. The Eggplant Festival, hosted by the Loomis Basin Chamber of Commerce, promotes purple pride in one of the foothills’ favorite pieces of produce. Jan Thompson, of Newcastle Produce, has peddled ‘plant at the festival the past few years. Thompson grows many eggplant varieties, from the black bell to the Listada di Gandia. “There’s a lot of different colors and shapes, so they’re a really pretty vegetable,” she said. And there’s no sense in having a whole festival celebrating this picturesque vegetable without offering visitors a solid menu demonstrating the eggplant’s ability to taste great. “It’s just very versatile,” Thompson said of cooking with eggplant. “It will take on lots of different flavors. It pairs well with a lot of things.” The Randy Peters Catering and Event Planning crew has been serving all kinds of eggplant-inspired dishes, both the sweet and the savory, at the last five or six Eggplant Festivals. “Every year I try to bring in two or three new things,” Randy Peters said. Favorites returning for another year include the eggplant burger — fire-roasted eggplant topped with cheddar, tomato, a chipotle eggplant aioli — and the pic-up stix, deep-fried eggplant sticks served with parmesan cheese and chipotle parmesan ranch dressing. Festivalgoers will have their pick from a full menu of eggplant items, from lighter bites like spicy eggplant garlic dip and pita chips to the heftier eggplant tacos and the traditional eggplant parmesan. Dessert, however, has been switched up. Peters made the call to yank eggplant ice cream off the menu after serving it up the past couple years. In its place in the sweets category are the new eggplant brownie and eggplant pancakes. “I really wanted to shake it up, especially since we’re not doing the ice cream,” Peters said. The pancakes will be made with a basic pancake batter, doctored with eggplant pulp. “The pulp pretty much takes on any flavor you mix it with,” Peters said. The pancakes even come with an eggplant syrup — the meat of the eggplant is reduced, then strained, and mixed with a simple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Peters will also cook up eggplant chips, thinly slicing and deep-frying Chinese and Japanese eggplant like potato chips. The eggplant burrito and a tri-tip sandwich prepared with eggplant barbecue sauce are other new food items. Peters enjoys finding new ways to feed eggplant to the masses. “The fun is for people to go, ‘Whoa, look at that, I want to try that,’” he said. “It’s fun for them to come back and say, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know it could taste like that.’ I always have fun with it. You just have fun with food and play with it.” Think you can out-do Peters’ eggplant dishes? Download a Eggplant Festival Cooking Contest registration form at www.loomis chamber.com. Winning recipes will be published in a Loomis Basin Chamber of Commerce cookbook. Call the Chamber at (916) 652-7252 or visit their Web site for more Eggplant Festival information. The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia.com, or comment online at Auburnjournal.com.