Shrine of the times

Food: In celebration of aubergine: delicious both hot and cold
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I suppose it is unusual to have a corner of one's sitting room given over to the celebration of aubergines; Well, actually, it's a shrine to be brutally frank. There are seven ceramic aubergines; a truly beautiful Japanese lacquered piece; five tiny weenie ones; a cruet set; an auberginally shaped bread board; a silky soft cuddly toy type and a glass one from Venice. There are also three pictures, one garden spike for the row of aubergines that I will probably never plant and three fridge magnets. This last trio must feel quite lonely away from their friends, as they live in the kitchen, on the fridge. I keep meaning to make formal introductions.

Aubergine or eggplant? The latter title I actually prefer, being the original name because it was a small and creamy coloured and, surprise, surprise, the shape of a large egg. Incidentally, it is still possible to buy these little eggplants from enterprising vendors or sometimes in Continental greengrocers.

The big purple/black chap came along later, preceded I presume by the long and slender Mediterranean varieties with their fine flavour. The Asian relations start at pea size and increase to a grown-up eggplant the size of a small tomato; both are green and quite hard, sometimes bitter too, but as far as I know never salted and drained of faintly bitter juices, as is the European fashion. And on this note, the only sensible reason I have found for this salting lark is to rid the vegetable of excess water, so that when one is frying eggplant in olive oil the blotting paper properties of this pappy flesh are reduced to a minimum.

Three recipes then. The first, a dish I stumbled upon in Old Brompton Road, London, circa 1983, whilst working at Hilaire restaurant. It is dead simple and involves cooking half an eggplant, spreading it with pesto (that lovely Ligurian lotion) and burnishing this oily boat under the grill. The second dish strays towards the Orient, and the third is a sort of deconstructed moussaka, with the goats cheese playing the role of the cheese sauce crust. Serve this assembly cold, perhaps out of doors, on a sunny day and drink with a bottle of chilled Gamay on ice.

Grilled eggplant with pesto, serves 4

I don't know why, but I have never salted the eggplant for this recipe.

2 large eggplants, cut in half lengthways

salt and pepper

100mls/4fl oz virgin olive oil

a large bunch of basil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

3 tbsp pine kernels, lightly toasted

3 tbsp freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 426F/220C/gas mark 7. Make a criss-cross pattern across the cut surfaces of the eggplant, about 1 inch deep. Brush with a little of the olive oil and season. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes. The flesh should be soft and almost doughy.

Meanwhile, process the basil, garlic and pine kernels, together with a little salt and pepper, in a food processor - or use a mortar and pestle for a genuine Genoan feel! Work to a paste, then add enough of the olive oil to produce a loose textured puree. Finally, briefly, mix in the cheese. Spread the pesto over the surfaces of the eggplant and grill until golden and sizzling. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

Fried eggplant with chilli and spring onions, serves 4

This mildly fiery dish, best eaten at room temperature, is bang on for vegetarians. But it is also excellent when served alongside barbecued food that has been given a noteworthy marinade that involves Asian spicing.

475g/1Ib eggplant, cut into 1 in/2.5cm cubes

1 level tbsp salt

50mls/2fl oz vegetable oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

3 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp ginger syrup (from a jar of stem ginger)

2 tbsp soy sauce (preferably Kikkoman brand)

2 tbsp finely shredded spring onion,

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 level tsp dried chilli flakes

1 heaped tbsp freshly chopped coriander

a few sprigs fresh coriander to garnish

Sprinkle the chopped eggplant with salt. Leave to drain in a colander for 45 minutes to an hour and then rinse in a sink of cold water. Drain, tip onto a clean tea-towel and carefully pat dry.

Heat the oil until smoking in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the eggplant briskly until well coloured. Tip onto kitchen paper to drain. Pour the sesame oil, vinegar, ginger syrup and soy into the pan, allow to bubble and tip back in the aubergines. Cook gently together, stirring carefully, for 5 minutes. Add the spring onions, ginger, chilli and chopped coriander. Cook for another couple of minutes and then tip onto a serving dish. Garnish with the sprigs of fresh coriander and allow to cool a little before serving.

Sliced roast pink lamb, Turkish eggplant salad and creamed goat's cheese, serves 8-10

The salad is loosely based on Imam Bayeldi

I x 2.3 kilo/5lb leg of lamb, boned, rolled and tied by the butcher for neat and easy slicing once cooked

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and popper

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into three lengthways

for the eggplant salad

475g/1Ib eggplant, cut into 1"/2.5cm cubes

1 level tbsp salt

75mls/3fl oz olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

I tsp ground cinnamon

1/2tsp freshly ground black pepper

8 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 heaped tbsp currants

2 heaped tbsp chopped flat-leafed parsley

for the creamed goats' cheese

This is about the only way I like to eat goats' cheese!

310g/11oz firm goats' cheese

100mls/4fl oz sour cream

100mls/4fl oz soured cream (or creme fraiche]

a scraping of nutmeg

salt (if necessary) and a good shake of Tabasco

Pre-heat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7.

Make small but deep incisions into the lamb and force the sliced garlic into the holes. Smear the joint with the olive oil and season liberally. Roast for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven and then turn the temperature down to 325F/170C/gas mark 3. Cook for a further hour and then turn the oven off. Leave the door ajar and allow the meat to rest here for 20 minutes before removing from the oven. Put on a serving platter and pour juices around the meat. Leave to cool at room temperature.

Prepare the eggplant for salting, as explained in the previous recipe. Meanwhile, fry the onions in 2 tbsp of the given quantity of olive oil until softened and a pale golden colour. Add the spices, and cook for a couple of minutes, before adding the tomatoes. Stew for about 10 minutes over very gentle heat, adding the garlic for the last three minutes. Now stir in the currants. Heat the remaining olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until very hot and briskly fry the eggplant until lightly browned. Tip into the onion/tomato mulch and carefully stir in, along with the parsley. Check for seasoning. Spoon into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

If you own a mouli-legumes, force the goats' cheese through the finest blade, into a bowl. Add the yoghurt and soured cream, salt and Tabasco and beat well together. Pile into a serving dish, cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to firm up.

To serve, tuck sprightly bunches of watercress around the lamb before sending to table along with the eggplant and creamed goat's cheese. By the way, I think the lamb is best sliced thinly here, rather than in great doorsteps

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