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
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.