To make these grilled eggplant rolls, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until soft, not crisp. You could also fry them in olive oil if preferred. Transfer them to a paper-towel-covered plate and lightly dust with grated pecorino romano or ricotta salata. Soften a container of cream cheese and blend it well with a handful of roughly chopped salted capers (rinsed) and a small handful of chopped fresh basil. I used two varieties, purple and Greek. When the eggplant has cooled, spread a scoop of the cream on each round and roll them up. Serve with herbs and a bit more grated cheese if you like. These are very good at room temp or even chilled.
Slice the eggplant into rounds and place them in a shallow baking dish or on a large platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary and thyme (or herbes de Provence) and let rest for about 15 minutes while you prep the fish. I cut the swordfish steaks into rounds to roughly match the eggplant rounds in size. Coat the fish with olive oil and dust with black pepper. Grilled the veg and the fish, salt to taste when cooked, then assemble the towers, layering with chopped tomato and fresh basil. I served these with a creamy, tangy caper sauce made from capers, mayo and lemon juice.
Pasta alla Norma, or pasta in the style of Norma (more or less), is a classic Italian pasta dish with a quirky backstory. According to a widely-known anecdote, around 1920 the Catanese playwright and poet Nino Martoglio was lunching in the company of some theater friends. Upon being served a plate of pasta in a sauce of fried eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta salata, Martoglio is said to have exclaimed È una Norma! (‘It’s a Norma!’), a reference to Vincenzo Bellini’s celebrated opera and intended (curiously) as a compliment to the cook. Thanks to the roomful of writers and actors present, the expression immediately entered into the local word-stock of Catania’s historic town center.
Two things matter in making alla Norma: ingredients and method. Start with super fresh eggplant, tomato, basil. Regarding method, the eggplant is fried, separately from the tomato sauce, but you can work with one pan only. Spaghetti is the pasta traditionally associated with alla Norma, but use any shape you like.
(can be easily doubled)
160-170 grams (6 ounces circa) spaghetti
1 long eggplant
300 grams (a little over 1/2 pound) tomatoes
1 handful (1/3 cup circa) grated ricotta salata
1-2 garlic cloves
3-4 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnishing
Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes (use a large pot and you can cook the spaghetti in the same water; remember to salt the water). Remove the tomatoes from the water, let cool, peel and deseed. Set the pulp aside (you should have about a cup). Peel the garlic and roughly chop the basil. Slice half of the eggplant into thin rounds and cube the rest. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and fry the rounds on both sides until brown and slight crunchy on the edges. Transfer to paper towels and lightly salt. Re-oil the pan and cook the cubed eggplant until brown and soft. Transfer to a bowl temporarily. In the same pan, add another bit of oil, heat, and add the peeled garlic cloves. Swirl to flavor the oil. Add the tomato pulp and cook for a few minutes until the pulp liquifies a bit. Now add the cooked cubed eggplant, stir, and cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat and add the chopped basil and half the grated cheese and combine well. Test the saltiness. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti al dente and when ready add to the pan of sauce and combine.
Serve the pasta on plates lined with the fried eggplant rounds. Dust with the remaining cheese and garnish with a basil leaf or two.
Composer Vincenzo Bellini’s image appears on the 5,000 lire banknote. The mushroom Suillus bellinii is named after him.
I discovered eggplant caviar in Provence, where it is commonly served as an hors d’oeuvre with crackers or bread. It is sometimes called poor man’s caviar, according to Peter Mayle, ‘because the aubergine seeds, when looked at with an uncritical eye, resemble the eggs of the virgin sturgeon.’
1 large eggplant
3 to 4 cloves of roasted garlic (my addition, optional)
juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbls fresh chopped thyme (savory or parsley too, optional)
salt & pepper
You want a bed of glowing super-hot coals in your grill. It is absolutely vital that you prick the eggplant skin all over with a fork before placing it on the grill. Turn the eggplant every few minutes to cook evenly. The skin will soften, and eventually as it blackens the eggplant will start to collapse on itself. It is done when all the skin is blackened (and even blistered) and the veg is very soft and squishy.
At the same time, grill an entire head of garlic: slice off the top ¼ inch to expose the garlic cloves, drizzle with a little oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap in foil and grill until the garlic is very soft when pressed. Let cool.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut it open and scoop out the flesh into a strainer. Press out any liquid. Transfer the flesh to a chopping board or food processor along with the roasted garlic. You basically want a mash, so chop by hand or process as you see fit. Transfer to a bowl and add the lemon juice, herbs, oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and serve with sliced bread or crackers.
20-24 prawns / circa 450-500 grams of meat once shelled
1 large red bell pepper
2 large tomatoes
1 red onion
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
olive oil & salt
Peel 1 eggplant entirely and the other 2 partially (in strips) and dice all three into about ¾ inch cubes. Transfer to a large platter or large baking dish and lightly sprinkle all the cubes with salt. Let rest for 15 minutes. (I don’t always purge/bleed eggplant, by the way. If the veg is super fresh, you could actually skip this step.) In the meantime you can prep the other ingredients.
Peel and de-vein the prawns if needed. When they are cleaned you should have at least 450 grams of meat.
Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes. Remove them from the water and let cool.
Thinly slice the onion. Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Clean and finely chop the pepper. Chop the parsley.
The eggplant will have bled out its liquid after about 15 minutes. Drain off what liquid you can and pat off some liquid with paper towels if necessary.
Cover the bottom of a very large pan generously with olive oil and heat. When the oil is very hot, add all the cubed eggplant and toss immediately to cover the pieces with oil. Cook on medium-high heat for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The eggplant will shrink as it cooks, releasing more liquids and softening, which makes getting the ‘right’ texture a bit tricky. I think this is a matter of personal taste. Some say the eggplant in a caponata should be crisp (good luck with that); others prefer a softer texture. I judged mine to be ready when the eggplant was soft and tender. Scoop out the eggplant and place in bowl.
Peel and deseed the tomatoes, which should be cool now. Smash up the pulp and set aside.
Turn the pan back on medium-high. Add another tablespoon or two of oil if necessary. Add the onion and cook until soft, then add the garlic and pepper and cook until soft, then add the tomato, turn the heat to low, and stir well. Now add the prawns, making sure they cook in contact with the bottom of the pan. Turn after a few minutes or when they are cooked on one side. Cook another few minutes and now add the eggplant to the pan. Stir all very well and correct for salt. Add the parsley, gently combine, and let rest for a few minutes before serving.
Would it surprise you to learn that this Italian classic does not traditionally call for Parmesan cheese? The name melanzana alla parmigiana means simply eggplant ‘made in the Parma way’—which is to layer a dish with vegetables and/or other ingredients. Its lineage is equally shifty, as there’s nothing truly definitive to suggest the dish originates in the Parma area. In fact, many say melanzana alla parmigiana is a Sicilian recipe, sometimes pointing to the word parmiciana, the Sicilian word for the strips of wood that comprise window shutters and whose appearances recalls the layers of a parmigiana dish. Technically then, the correct name of the dish is not eggplant parmigiana, but rather a parmigiana of eggplant, much as one could make (and say) a parmigiana of veal or a parmigiana of zucchini.
The wonders don’t end here. I learned something pretty amazing today while consulting a handful of cookbooks: the true, traditional parmigiana of eggplant calls for sliced boiled egg. The first time I read this I admit I scoffed a bit. I looked elsewhere, on the web and in my own cookbook collection, including my La Cucina Italiana encyclopedia and Il Grande Mosaico della Cucina Italiana, and found it repeatedly mentioned. You won’t find boiled egg in many of your mainstream recipes on the web, but it is out there. Don’t believe me? Well, I don’t blame you. But do check it out. Today I made it, the real-deal parmigiana di melanzane.
2 medium eggplants
250 grams (1 cup) of chunky tomato sauce (5 to 8 tomatoes)
250 grams (about 9-10 ounces) of fresh mozzarella
3 boiled eggs
5 or 6 fresh whole basil leaves, plus 1 Tbls minced
Slice the eggplant into ¼ inch thick rounds or strips. If you’re using a round baking dish, cut the eggplant into rounds. If using a square or rectangular dish, slice them lengthwise into oblong strips. This will help when it comes time to arrange the slices in your dish.
Layer the slices on a large platter, sprinkling with a small amount of table salt as you proceed. Place another heavy platter on top of the eggplant and let them ‘bleed’ for 15-20 minutes. (If your eggplant is uber, plucked-from-your-veggie-patch fresh you can skip this step.)
Boil the eggs for 7 minutes and let them cool in their water. Heat the oven to 180° C (355° F). Now make the tomato sauce. Score and boil the tomatoes for 5 minutes. When cooled, peel and deseed the tomatoes and place the pulp in bowl. Add about 1 tablespoon of minced basil and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Leave aside.
Now the eggplant. First drain the slices of any brownish water. Flour both sides of the slices. Heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and fry the eggplant until golden on both sides. You will have to work in batches. Place the fried slices on paper towels and salt lightly.
Peel and slice the eggs (about 4 slices from each egg). Slice the mozzarella into rounds. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a light drizzle of olive oil and start layering: eggplant, eggs and mozzarella, tomato sauce. Finish the top layer with cheese only. Bake for 30 minutes circa, or until the top is bubbly and golden. Garnish with a few basil leaves. You can add a sprinkle of grated Parmesan if you really want to. But it won’t mean anything.
Here’s a solid summer recipe courtesy of Georgeanne Brennan, from her gorgeous cookbook The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence. These were a big hit at my recent Provençal-themed lunch with friends. Even the baby liked them!
Brennan’s recipe called for one large eggplant. As I was to serve this as a side dish for a party of 8 people, I used two large eggplants.
2 large eggplants
2 Tbls herbes de Provence
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbls extra virgin olive oil
200 grams (about a cup) fresh goat cheese
8 to 10 small tomatoes
1/3 cup (about a handful) chopped fresh basil
salt & pepper
Cut the eggplants lengthwise about ¼ inch thick. You should have about 15 slices. Place them in a large platter or baking dish and cover with salt, fresh ground pepper, the herbes, and olive oil. Turn them a few times to coat well. Let marinate for about an hour.
Finely chop the basil and set aside.
To prepare the concassé, peel, de-seed, and chop the tomatoes. Although Brennan does not say to, I always score and boil tomatoes if they are to be peeled, as it’s so much easier to get the skin off. This time I ‘flash’ boiled them: 2 minutes. Once they are cool, peel and de-seed the tomatoes, roughly chop the flesh, and transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the basil and stir. Set aside, but not in the fridge.
Get your grill fire going. (You can also use a grooved grilling pan if you prefer, which will require more olive oil for the pan.) When the coals are ready, grill the eggplant slices about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until they are browned and soft in the middle. Let cool for about 15 minutes.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, spread a small scoop (about a tablespoon) of the goat cheese onto each slice and set them on a platter. When this step is done, sprinkle the chopped basil over all the slices. Then roll up each one. Brennan uses a toothpick to secure them; I just made little folded pockets. Serve with the tomato, either by placing two rolls on each plate with a scoop of the concassé as garnish; or, as pictured here, on a communal platter with the garnish in the middle.
I grew up eating fried eggplant pretty regularly, thanks to my aunt Joan (who would dust the fried slices with grated parmesan cheese–yum). Cut thicker, and fried until very crisp, eggplant slices make for nice ‘building blocks’ of other creations. Here they are the foundation for what I dubbed ‘tomino towers’.
(note: one serving is comprised of one fried eggplant slice and one tomino round. You can multiply this recipe as much as you like)
1 large eggplant, sliced thick and fried (instructions below)
batter (flour, 1 egg, milk, carbonated water, 1 ice cube)
oil for frying
2 tomini cheese rounds, grilled (instructions below)
1/2 cup (about 125 grams) crème fraîche or sour cream
hot pepper sauce or ground chili powder
dried herbs such as herbes de Provence for garnishing
Arrange the salad greens on a serving platter. Add a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce, or alternatively a pinch of chili powder, to the cream, blend well and keep in fridge until a five minutes prior to serving.
For the eggplant: Prepare the batter. Slice the fattest part of the eggplant 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick rounds. Batter well and lay onto a plate of bread crumbs. Coat both sides generously. Heat the oil of your choice in a large pan. Fry the rounds until they are medium-dark and very crispy, keeping a good eye on the color as they fry, since you only want to turn them once. Transfer to paper towels and lightly salt while still hot. When they have cooled slightly arrange them on top of the salad greens.
Cook the tomini in a grooved, grill-like pan that has been oiled and heated. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, turning them only once with a sturdy spatula. The tomini are ready when they begin to bubble and are visibly melting. Transfer each immediately while still hot to the eggplant slices round. Garnish with a dollop of the spicy cream and dried herbs.