A slightly sweet, tender fruit covered with a shiny skin that ranges in color from purple, which is the most familiar, to red, yellow, green, or white, depending on the variety. Since this food is a member of the nightshade family, which includes the potato and tomato, it is classified as a fruit. Italian eggplant, referred to as "melanzane" are similar in shape to the American varieties, but smaller and thinner in size. Somewhat sweeter and more delicate in flavor, the main varieties of Italian eggplants are the elongated dark purplish-black eggplant (similar to the American eggplant), the Bianca Oval (a white oval shaped fruit), and the Italian heirloom known as the Rosa Bianca. The most common purple Italian eggplant, referred to simply as "Italian" eggplant, has the pear shape with a dark purple skin covering a white meaty inner flesh. The Bianca Oval and the Rosa Bianca are round to oval in shape with a thin white outer skins that have a light purple shading. The meat of the eggplants is creamy textured and provides a mildly sweet flavor when cooked.
An eggplant requires a long, warm growing season, so it is most plentiful in late summer to fall. Eggplant is excellent when stuffed with a variety of ingredients, sautéed, broiled, baked, grilled, or slowly cooked in meat, rice, or cheese dishes and stews. Eggplant can also be substituted for pasta in lasagna dishes. When selecting this fruit, choose those that have a shiny tight skin, making sure they are not dull colored or lightweight with rust spots. For the best flavor, refrigerate eggplant unwashed in a plastic bag for no more than a week. An eggplant may also be referred to as aubergine (French), berenjena, brinjal, Guinea squash, garden egg (bitter ball), melongene, or melanzane.