Lawson: Eggplant takes elegant turn in northern Italian dish
I call it eggplant. But really, “aubergine” sounds much more sophisticated, just ask Martha Stewart or the folks at pottery barn. Eggplant, known as aubergine on the other side of the Atlantic, really does have an elegant ring, though. Just as what we call zucchini, the Brits call courgette. Our snow pea is their mangetout. What we know as squash, they know as marrow.
OK, so aubergine is what I’m going to refer to this beautiful purple vegetable (botanically it is classified as a berry, but let’s not get too technical) and the fact that I could buy a good-sized one for only $1 at the farmers market really makes it a bargain above all else.
I had planned to make my usual eggplant Parmesan with my $1 prize but at the last minute decided to do a web troll and see what else I could create. I had several ripe tomatoes thanks to my friend, Bob, and the basil was getting ready to go thanks the recent cool nights. There was a large wedge of fresh Parmesan on hand and ball of fresh mozzarella that needed using so I wanted to incorporate the bounty in one fantastic dish. My usual eggplant dish called for jarred tomato sauce but that’s a sacrilege considering what I had on had.
I didn’t have to look very far to find just the recipe I needed: This classic northern Italian dish from Jamie Oliver, a chef who never disappoints. And I love not only the Brit chef’s recipes but the manner in which he describes the technique. I have edited his recipe and added a few ingredients of my own (I did add a can of Rotel chopped tomatoes and green chilies really upped the heat factor nicely). He calls it Aubergine Parmigiana but you can call it eggplant Parmesan if you like. I just call it affordably fantastic and so delicious.
3 large aubergines
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
2 14.5-ounce cans plum tomatoes, or 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
Splash of red wine vinegar
1 large handful fresh basil
2 cups Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 1/2 cups dried breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fresh oregano, leaves chopped (can use 1 teaspoon dried)
5-6 ounces fresh mozzarella
Remove the stalks from the aubergines, slice them up into 1/2-inch thick slices, and put to one side. Whether you’re using a griddle pan or a barbecue, get it really hot. Meanwhile, put 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and dried oregano and cook for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and the garlic has a tiny bit of color. If you’re using canned tomatoes, break them up, and if you’re using fresh tomatoes (which will obviously taste sweeter and more delicious, if they’re in season), very quickly prick each one and put them into a big pan of boiling water for 40 seconds. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them into a bowl of cold water for 30 seconds, then remove the skins, carefully squeeze out the seeds and cut up the flesh. Add the tomato flesh or canned tomatoes to the onion, garlic and oregano. Give the mixture a good stir, then put a lid on the pan and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, grill the aubergines on both sides until lightly charred — you may have to do them in batches, as they probably won’t all fit into your griddle pan in one go. As each batch is finished, remove them to a tray and continue grilling the rest. When the tomato sauce is reduced and sweet, season it carefully with salt, pepper and a splash of wine vinegar, and add the basil. You can leave the sauce chunky or you can purée it.
Lightly oil a 9-by-13 casserole dish. Put in a small layer of tomato sauce, then a thin scattering of Parmesan, followed by a single layer of aubergines. Repeat these layers until you’ve used all the ingredients up, finishing with a little sauce and another good sprinkling of Parmesan. Toss the breadcrumbs in olive oil with a little freshly chopped oregano and saute until golden and sprinkle them on top of the Parmesan. Top with fresh mozzarella that has been torn into little chunks.
Place the dish in the oven and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minuts until golden, crisp and bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 233 calories; 12 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 21 mg cholesterol; 514 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 6 g fiber.