Purple reign: Bill Granger cooks with aubergines

When he first encountered them as a child, the porous texture of aubergines put Bill Granger off.  Now, it's precisely that meltingly smooth quality that has finally won him over

I grew up in a meat-and- two-veg household. We always had fresh food on the table, but much to my mother's dismay, I think I've made it common knowledge by now that she really was no Delia.

One of my earliest glimpses into the pleasure food can bring came not at home, but when hanging out at my Greek friend's house.

The punchy flavours, abundance of food and noisy conversation around the table were like another world to me. Even his packed lunches, with their fried-aubergine sandwiches, seemed madly weird and exotic. It was at his place that I first tasted aubergines and, to be honest, I struggled with their texture at first. It's funny, but that porous, meltingly soft quality is exactly what draws me to them now. It works so well when matched with Mediterranean flavours, and you can't go wrong with classics such as a baba ganoush or a gorgeous Sicilian caponata. I cook it just as often in Asian dishes, too – pan-fried in a sweet Japanese miso dressing, in Thai curries or paired with mince, for the vibrant Vietnamese dish overleaf.

Bill's restaurant, Granger & Co, is at 75 Westbourne Grove, London W11, tel: 020 7229 9111, grangerandco.com

Caponata with ricotta

This dish works equally well as a starter with ricotta and bread or as a side dish to some grilled lamb or chicken. The sweetness of the ricotta works so well balancing those bold sweet- and-sour Sicilian flavours.

Serves 4-6

100ml/3½fl oz olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 aubergines, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, sliced
50g/2oz pine nuts
50g/2oz raisins
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
400g/13oz can of plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 tbsp capers
50g/2oz pitted green olives
3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
Small handful basil leaves

To serve

Ricotta
Toasted sourdough

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat. Fry the aubergines and pepper, in batches, for 5 to 6 minutes until golden and tender. Drain in a colander.

Pour away all but 2 tbsp of oil from the pan and use to fry the onion, celery, pine nuts and raisins for 8 minutes over a low heat, until softened and lightly golden. Return the aubergine and peppers to the pan and add the remaining ingredients, except the basil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Fold though the basil and set aside to cool.

Drizzle generously with olive oil before serving with ricotta and toasted sourdough.

Baba ganoush with peas and broad beans

The secret here is to let the aubergines get really charred and burnt on the coals or flames to get that deliciously smoky flavour.

Serves 4

For the baba ganoush

3 aubergines
3 tbsp tahini
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp salt
Juice ½ lemon
4 tbsp olive oil

For the peas and broad beans

50g/2oz fresh or frozen peas
50g/2oz fresh or frozen broad beans
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 mint leaves
Few sprigs dill, torn
2 tsp sumac

To serve

Lebanese flatbread

First make the baba ganoush. Place the aubergines on hot coals or on the hob, directly over a high flame. Cook, turning occasionally, until the skin is charred all over and starting to crumble off. Place in a large bowl and cover with clingfilm to steam for 10 minutes. Cut the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh. Finely chop the flesh and stir into a bowl with the tahini, garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil.

Now blanch the peas and broad beans in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain and toss into olive oil with the mint and dill.

Spoon the baba ganoush on to a platter, top with the pea-and-broad-bean mix and scatter with sumac. Serve with the flatbread.

Vietnamese aubergine with minced pork

Quick, cheap and full of exciting flavours, this is a great little dish to turn to when your weekday repertoire needs a bit of a lift.

Serves 4

8 finger aubergines, cut in half lengthways
2 tbsp light-flavoured oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tbsp fish sauce
450g/14½oz minced pork
4 spring onions, sliced into rounds
50g/2oz toasted peanuts, chopped
Small bunch coriander
1 red chilli, sliced
Plain rice, to serve

For the dressing

1 red chilli, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp caster sugar
Juice 1 lime
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice-wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Score a criss-cross pattern on the flesh of the aubergine halves and drizzle lightly with oil. Season with salt and bake for 20 minutes until tender and golden. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, and set aside.

Stir the fish sauce into the minced pork. Heat the rest of the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat and fry the pork until golden and crisp. Add the roasted aubergines, half the spring onions and the dressing and cook for 2 minutes. Top with the peanuts, coriander, sliced chilli and remaining spring onions. Serve with plain rice.

Food preparation: Marina Filippelli; Props merchandising: Rachel Jukes

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