Friday, November 5, 2010

Aubergine sounds nicer than eggplant

As I think I've said before on this blog, Harvey hates aubergines. But lately there've been gorgeous ones gleaming out at me from the greengrocer. So I managed to organise a little series of something elses for Harvey, and made myself aubergine with tomato and parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane - it took me quite a while to realise that melanzane meant aubergine, not melon) one night and moussaka another.

Both the recipes come, again, from Claudia Roden - the parmigiana from The Food of Italy and the moussaka from her invaluable Book of Middle Eastern Food, the first "foreign" cookbook I fell in love with. This is the revised edition replacement for the first one I owned (which fell to bits), and as you can see it's been well used, though I can't imagine how I managed to tear off the bottom corner.
I won't give quantities because I was making small helpings for myself (even so, using just one large aubergine altogether, each dish lasted me two meals).

Preparing the aubergines
You do this the same way for both dishes, so it made sense for me to do it all in advance.
* Slice the aubergines lengthwise, sprinkle the slices with salt and leave for half an hour to let the bitter juices run out.

* Rinse and drain the slices, dry them, and fry them in hot olive oil, turning them once. Drain on absorbent paper. (Roden says to deep-fry them but I never do that, I just shallow-fried them in a pan until they were starting to turn golden brown, and they were fine.)

For parmigiana
* Make the tomato sauce: Fry garlic in a little olive oil until the aroma rises. Add one can (more for a large dish) of chopped Italian tomatoes, 1 tsp sugar, a little salt and pepper, and a bunch of basil or mint leaves, chopped. Cook vigorously to reduce.
* Arrange the slices of aubergine in an oven-proof dish, cover with the tomato sauce, sprinkle with diced mozzarella and grated parmesan, and bake at 180C for about 30 minutes.

I didn't have mozzarella but I did have cream cheese, so I used that. I had a little good parmesan and added some crumbled blue cheese to it. The result was brilliant: rich, creamy, tasty. The uabergine seems to melt into the tomato and cheese, so you're aware of the flavour but not the texture. Very good reheated, too.

For moussaka
Badly made moussaka was the bane of 70s parties, with lumpy bland mince, potato, and few or no aubergines. This is much nicer.

Prepare the aubergines as for parmigiana. Fry chopped onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil until pale golden.
Meat sauce: Add minced beef or lamb and fry until well browned. Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon or allspice. (A bit of sumac is good too.) Add tinned chopped tomatoes, plus 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and a little chopped parsley. Stir well, moisten with a little water and simmer for about 15 minutes until the meat is well cooked and the water is absorbed. Allow to cool.
*At this point I do something Roden doesn't mention, but it works really well. I grind the meat sauce in the food processor, making it finer and less lumpy. This makes it taste exactly like the sauce I had in Albania - it's called kime and it's the basis for many different dishes.
White sauce: see my earlier post on bechamel for how to get this right. I used about 2 tablespooons of butter, 2 of flour and 1/2 a pint (300 ml) milk (Roden uses twice as much, and 2 eggs). Season with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg. When the sauce has thickened, beat an egg, stir in a little of the sauce, beat again, and pour slowly back into the white sauce, stirring constantly over low heat (don't let it boil).

To bake: Put alternate layers of aubergine slices and meat sauce into a deep baking dish, starting and ending with a layer of aubergines (I just had three layers, a sort of aubergine sandwich with the meat in the middle). Pour over the white sauce and bake, uncovered, at 180C for about 45 minutes. You can sprinkle a little grated parmesan - or cheddar or gruyere - over the top before baking. I did, and it was indeed, as she says, "very rich", but completely delicious.


Alexia said...

Thank you so much for posting this! It's going to push me into making use of those beautiful aubergines in the supermarket - each time I saw them I've thought, "must look up a recipe to try those out", but of course I haven't.

I was in Greece and Turkey earlier this year and often ate delicious aubergine dishes. I will definitely try the parmigiana first, then a non-mince version of the moussaka.

Alexia said...

Thank you for your kind comments about my blog - and I've added yours. I do feel as if I already follow you in a sense, as I always read Stoatspring - I love Harvey's posts on his memories and ideas about so many different subjects. I've read all of your blogs on a number of occasions...

AnneE said...

This comment is from my friend Ali but the post function erfused to work, so I'm doing it for her:
I love aubergines too, Anne, and parmigiana is such a great way to cook them. I usually skip the salting-and-draining step though, and just brush the aubergine slices with oil and bake them in the oven for 20-30 minutes
while I make the tomato sauce. Saves time if you're in a hurry!
Another variation (based on a recipe in the Les Mimosas cookbook) is to substitute a breadcrumb/garlic/herb topping for the heeses - less rich than parmigiana, and useful if cooking for vegans. (For non-vegans I usually add some grated parmesan to the topping for extra flavour.)
The only problem with aubergines is that they look so beautiful sitting in my favourite Italian bowl that I sometimes don't get around to cooking them before they go brown inside! [And I do exactly the same - Anne]