the simplest way to cook aubergine with love to nigel slater

baked eggplant with tomato & pesto simplest baked aubergine (eggplant) with tomato & pesto

Don’t you just love when you discover a new author, especially a food writer with an impressive back catalog.

You may think I’ve been hiding under a rock, but until recently I wasn’t aware of the food writing brilliance of Mr Nigel Slater. Sure I’d seen cookbooks written by a guy called Slater. I actually distinctly remember seeing a volume called Real Fast Food on the shelf of a guy I worked with in a winery in Mudgee. I also remember thinking to myself ‘wow even cricketers are writing cookbooks now’ and completely dismissing the whole idea.

Of course what I didn’t realise was that it was Michael Slater who played for Australia and that Nigel Slater was not only a completely different person from a different country. He was and is a food loving wordsmith with a passion for vegetables that makes my own heart beat a little faster. I’m so grateful to the lovely Jacqui Lewis who not only did a stellar job if designing the logo for stonesoup, but more importantly gave a rave review of the kitchen diaries and got me rethinking about his mysterious cricketer/author. I owe you one Jac.

It goes without saying that I am totally loving Tender Volume 1. A Cook and His Vegetable Patch. It’s one of those books that I find myself savouring every word rather than rushing to get to the end. So far I’ve lingered through the asparagus patch, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli and the sprouting greens, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. I already know I’ve found a new go-to book when it comes to vegetables.

One of the most pleasant surprises was a ‘great minds think alike‘ moment I had in the aubergine field. A week or so before I started reading the book, I made a vegetarian dinner for my Dad and brother with very positive reviews. Particularly given that they are serious country carnivore types. It was a simple dish of aubergine halves baked until tender in a tomato sauce served with a generous mound of pesto. And what did I find in amongst Mr Slater’s many aubergine recipes? You guessed it baked aubergine with pesto. A man after my own heart.

three simple steps to cooking aubergine

i. preheat oven
ii. halve aubergine lengthwise and score into chunky diamonds on the cut side.
iii. drizzle with oil and bake until super soft.

stonesoup tips for cooking aubergine

i. salting is optional
In the old days aubergine used to have a bitter flavour which required salting to purge. Modern aubergine varieties have been bred without the bitterness. If you are frying your aubergine the salting step helps to start breaking down the cells of the flesh which reduces the amount of oil absorbed during cooking. To be honest I hardly ever salt my aubergine, but then I also rarely fry it. Definitely not required if you’re charring it whole over the flame of a BBQ to make babaghanoush.

ii. never undercook
One of the least appealing things in the world is aubergine that doesn’t melt in your mouth. Always err on the side of overcooking. I have a theory that people who don’t like aubergine have had a bad experience with an undercooked specimen.

iii. choose smooth shiny firm aubergine
Just as in people, wrinkles in an aubergine are a sign of old age, or seriously hard living. Same goes for a dull appearance.

iv. avoid frying
Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, I’d advise caution around anything that calls for fried aubergine slices. It takes ages and always uses an alarming amount of prescious olive oil (although maybe I should learn to do the salting thing). If I’m making something that calls for fried aubergine slices I brush very generously with olive oil and either BBQ over a lowish heat or bake in the oven.

vi. charring is fun
One of my favourite cooking jobs is charring aubergine flesh for making babaghanoush mentioned above. Although lots of recipes, including our friend Mr Slater recommend baking it in a hot oven until blackened, I find that you never get that authentic smoky flavour unless there’s a naked flame involved. My favourite method is to take the hotplates off my gas BBQ and balance the eggplant directly on the burners turning until it’s charred all over and soft to the touch. Failing that I have been known to use the gas flame on the cook top but be warned – it makes a terrible mess of your kitchen.

v. baking is the best
Pop it the oven and come back later to silky soft goodness. No more to say really

simplest baked aubergine (eggplant) with tomato & pesto

simplest baked aubergine (eggplant) with tomato & pesto
serves 4

If you are looking for a simple pesto recipe that doesn’t require a mortar and pestle or even a food processor, there’s one in the stonesoup archives. Or for something a bit different try my beetroot pesto.

If you’re feeling truly minimalist, just roast the aubergine with some olive oil and serve alone with the pesto.

The aubergine and tomato would also make an excellent sauce for pasta. Just roughly chop the cooked vegetables and stir through hot pasta.

This dish is great to make ahead and reheat when you’re ready to eat. A good one for vegetarian entertaining. Lovely with my brown rice and almond tabbouleh.

1 jar tomato passata (700g or 1 1/2lb)
2 large aubergine (eggplant), halved lengthwise
8 anchovies, optional
2 cloves garlic, peeled & very finely sliced
1/3C everyday extra virgin olive oil
1/2C pesto, to serve

Preheat oven to 220C or 425F (that’s 200C or 400F for fan forced ovens).

Pour the tomato passata into the base of a baking dish large enough to hold the aubergine halves in a single layer. Score the cut side of the aubergine in a chunky criss cross pattern. Slice a think cheek off the round side of the aubergine so it will sit flat in the dish. Place aubergine in the dish and top with anchovies if using and garlic slices. Drizzle over olive oil.

Bake until meltingly tender, about 50minutes to an hour. Serve warm or hot with a generous dollup of pesto on top.

I’m on track for my reading goal of 26 books for the year. To see my progress so far have a look at my now reading page.

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{ 34 comments }

Under_Exposed February 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Definitely in the carnivore camp with your dad and brother, and the only eggplant I’ve ever enjoyed eating is the grilled eggplant with miso and parmesan at Uchi Lounge in Surry Hills, but that looks so good I’m going to give it another go. And thanks for the update on salting…I must have been hiding under a rock while they bred the bitterness out of them.

Claire February 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I do love eggplant – usually grilled on the bbq I confess, although I roast it in the oven for my kids version of moussaka (if you mix the aubergine into the mince they lap it up – if you put in slices they complain).. Mind you, I have managed to explode about 3 in my oven at various times.. has this happened to you? and if not, how do you avoid it. There’s nothing quite like cleaning an oven covered in roasted aubergine.
And Nigel Slater is amazing. Love love LOVE him. Favourite “food” book is The Man Who Ate Everything – Jeffrey Steingarten. Definitely worth a find. It’s the only book that I’ve EVER finished and then gone right back to the beginning to start again!

Elif September 6, 2012 at 2:07 am

OMG. You need to pierce them :) pierce them with a fork or a knife and they will never explode and cook quicker.

jules September 15, 2012 at 1:20 am

Elif!
When they’re halved like this no need to pierce :)

Heather February 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Pasta with baked eggplant and passata is one of my very favourite easy meals. I’m usually too lazy for the pesto even, just tearing up some fresh basil to scatter over the top. So good!
You must track down a copy of the kitchen diaries. There aren’t many cookbooks that I read cover to cover but this one I have, several times now. Wonderful writer, wonderful photography.
Off to buy an eggplant now..

jules February 4, 2010 at 4:38 pm

under_exposed
you’re right about the japanese and eggplant. love the one at raw bar in bondi

claire
great idea to mix the eggplant in with the meat – love stealth vegetables
I loved the man who ate everything too but jeffrey isn’t a patch on nigel me thinks

heather
the kitchen diaries is well and truly on my list. enjoy your eggplant. and great minimalist idea to just use basil leaves and skip making the pesto. I should have thought of that ;)

Tracy February 4, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Mmmmm, eggplant! You’ve inspired me, because I usually associate eggplant with frying and so end up never making it.
By the way, just heard back from el bulli – no dice for 2010! Oh well, maybe it’s better… now I don’t have to justify spending all that money!

Andrew February 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm

If you loved ‘Tender’, you must read his book ‘The Kitchen Diaries’. It is without a doubt, my very favourite cookbook. The man writes beautifully and ought to be a National treasure in England. I love his way of simplistic but delicious (practical & seasonal too) cooking.

kathryn February 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

So glad to hear you’ve discovered Mr Slater, his books are wonderful and like you I’m treasuring every moment of Tender. It’s not just the recipes, but also the food ideas.

And I’m with Under_Exposed that eggplant with parmesan and miso at Uchi Lounge is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Wendy February 5, 2010 at 8:53 am

The book that got me into cooking was Nigel’s (feels wrong to say Slater’s) Real Fast Food. It’s wonderful. I adore “Tender” but it’s not a patch on Real Fast Food. So many ideas…
PS Nigel does a column in The Guardian each week – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/nigelslaterrecipes

Katy February 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

oh my gosh – drool! Ii love eggplant/aubergine – is so my favourite vegetable and I have a sickness for babaganoush that can only be treated by a visit to Dr Gigibaba.

By the way – I love your recipes – tasty, healthy and inspiring – thanks!

Claire February 5, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Meant to say that Nigel also writes for the Observer Food Monthly – http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/foodmonthly – definitely worth a look..

jules February 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

hey tracy
bummer about elBulli but you’re right – it will save you a heap of cash

it’s on my list andrew thanks

kathryn
isn’t it the best – I’m so wishing I have a veggie patch

wendy
thanks for the link.

thanks katy
I’m not familiar with dr gigibaba but he sounds like the man

oh goody. thanks claire

Conor @ HoldtheBeef February 5, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Oh yes I do love aubergine! Totally with you on your opinion about frying them, too.

Man this looks good. So simple too.

Oh and Claire – just stab them a few times with a fork to prevent explosive capabilities :)

Natalie February 6, 2010 at 12:34 am

Gorgeous and so complete!

Mark B February 6, 2010 at 7:57 am

How wonderfully written, my gf is getting increasingly annoyed about me continually reffering to your writting. Looks like eggplant is on the menu tonight.

Reemski February 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

If you love eggplant, you *must* get the Ottolenghi cookbook! They do such wonderful things with eggplant and other vegetables…

jules February 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm

thanks for the tip about the Ottolenghi cookbook reemski. haven’t heard of it before. more new authors. yay

thanks mark. enjoy the eggplant

thanks natalie

conor – glad to hear I’m not the only one with the frying phobia. and thanks for the tip about piercing the eggplant to avoid explosions

Tess February 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I too am glad you discovered Nigel Slater. I try not to buy yet more cookbooks, but for him I make an exception.

Trisha February 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I agree – never undercook auburgine! There’s nothing more unappealing that biting something hard & raw in the middle of what could’ve been a lovely auburgine dish! :)

jules February 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm

tess
I think you’re wise to make an exception to new nigel slater cookbooks

trisha
I’m hearing you!

PhilD February 11, 2010 at 8:43 am

I second the Ottolenghi book recommendation, it is an inspiring book with some great recipes and ideas. We love their roasted aubergine with saffron yoghurt and pomegranate seeds and their couscous with dried apricot, butternut squash and lots of herbs.

Re: Aubergines and salting, Harold McGee in his “on Food and Cooking” suggests using a microwave to break-up the cell structure rather than salt. This gets rid of the sponginess of the vegetable and thus reduces the amount of oil need to fry, and means you don’t overload on salt.

I agree with you on the Nigel Slater books, he is quite a good writer, but do avoid him on TV. He is a stable-mate of Nigela Lawsons and has an equally irritating style, smarmy and oozing: quite disappointing.

Gab* February 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Looks so yum! I like to eat eggplant but rarely cook it. Not sure why, probably because I’m the only one in the house who likes it!

jules February 13, 2010 at 9:19 am

hey gab* love that you have a star next to your name.
that’s terrible that noone in your house likes eggplant

Erin S. May 29, 2010 at 10:44 am

I have recently tried baking the eggplant at your suggestion here. It was spectacular. My eggplant frying days are over. Thank you.

Paula February 3, 2011 at 9:01 am

OMG. Where have you been all my cooking life? This was fabulous! I’ve gotten creative since I first tried it, slathering with olive tapenade, then drizzled with oil before baking. It’s all good.

Erin @ she cooks, she gardens September 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Yum! Love this. I’m vego and have found you can easily replace anchovies with lightly fried capers. Salty and delicious!

sophie January 19, 2012 at 4:14 am

I always thought you salted aubergines to get rid of the water so they didn’t soak up so much oil when frying.
Putting them on a low heat in a dry pan whilst swooshing around constantly (to prevent burning) does the trick before frying…makes them good and fluffy.

Courtney August 1, 2012 at 1:33 am

I’m in the States where tomato passata is not widely available (or even heard of, honestly). I do have loads of fresh tomatoes in my garden right now. How can I use these gems to substitute for passata (without getting too involved or complicated, preferably!)?

jules August 13, 2012 at 7:52 am

Just puree them or finely chop and simmer for 10 minutes or longer if you’ve got it Courtney!
Lucky you
Jx

Charmaine January 13, 2013 at 3:10 am

I LOVE aubergines and have only every cooked them fried. This looks so scrummy and easy to do I am going to try it …. NOW!

Chucklett February 20, 2013 at 10:33 pm

My first taste of aubergine, about 20 years ago, was a very delicious middle-eastern dish. Ive never had it since until last week when I went out for a Valentines meal and the carvery had a roasted mix-veg dish….. which included aubergine! I’ve been craving more aubergine all week and so bought one yesterday with no idea of what to do with it. Im not the most adventurous cook and dont like frying so this dish looks perfect for me. Im trying it tonight but topping it with grated cheese instead of anchovies and garlic……..

Marian March 24, 2013 at 4:51 am

I just made these! Divine! But I struggled a bit with the top going very brown before they were done. And I had it on a lower temperature than you recommend! I had it on 180C for about an hour and 15 min. I just did the Aubergine, not with the tomato etc. Drizzled olive oil over – and added more oil about half way through cos they were getting too dark and dry on top but weren’t soft enough yet in the middle. They were delicious in the end, I would just like to perfect these! Any tips?

Dawn Waldron April 19, 2013 at 5:02 am

Just read your book list. I’m amazed (and in awe) of the focus it shows. I’ve read about 60% of them myself and share a lot of your views. I’ll be seeking out some of the others. Thanks for sharing such an inspiring list.

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