Whether you call it eggplant or aubergine or even melanzana, it makes no difference – if you cook it right, few vegetables taste as sweet! This black beauty used to be grown ornamentally and was thought to be poisonous, had I known this as a child I would have totally used it to get out of eating them. Let’s say, I found them challenging… until my Dad started growing them at home, that changed everything! Nothing beats homegrown. The taste and texture was totally different to what I had eaten before. You know, maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was just being involved in growing something. Mostly, children eat what they grow or see growing, I see it time and time again. Anyway, then I became willing to try and I had to admit I liked it! There are actually so many varieties from small little ping-pong balls to thin stringy ones, white ones, green ones etc… and they all have their own unique flavour and best way to enjoy them. If you can find them, give them a try. Commercially grown ones tend to be treated with fungicides, so be aware of that. Eggplants don’t do very well in the fridge and don’t have a very long shelf life either, so this recipe is what I use to get rid of ones lying about. It is a simple peasant dish – ratatouille, which my girls insist should be eaten while watching Ratatouille (optional.) The very first recipe I posted on this website was for moussaka, which I love and is always a crowd pleaser, a delicious melanzane alforno is also great and so is just slicing it and frying it in some olive oil until nice and brown on the outside and unctuously smooth and velvety within. Try baking it whole and making baba ganoush or halve it and stuff it and bake in the oven. It really is a lovely vegetable that soaks up all sorts of wonderful flavours and can form a wonderful base for many dishes, it is especially versatile when used in vegetarian cooking.
Aubergines, sliced and diced into 2cm cubes (peel only if the skin is too tough)
Zucchini, sliced into thinnish rounds
Sweet peppers (red, green, yellow or mixed), sliced
Tomatoes (fresh if you have or else good organic tinned), chopped
Garlic, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
Water to cover
I have an old French cookbook where they just chop up all the ingredients, pour over the oil, season, cover with water and leave it to simmer gently for two hours. But I like to show the individual components some love and create a slightly darker taste by frying or sautéing the ingredients individually, before putting them all together, adding the tomatoes and some water and letting it do its thing. Start with a hot pan with some olive oil and brown the aubergine for only a few
minutes, remove and set aside. Now do the same with the zucchini, then do the onions – when they are translucent add the peppers and when the onions start to caramelize, add the garlic. Sauté for a few minutes so the garlic can calm down, then in with the tomatoes and water. Lid on and heat down so you just have a gentle bubble and leave for about 2 hours. That does sound lovely, but I do not always have 2 hours available when feeding my family. I have done this very satisfactorily in less time on a slightly higher heat, just be careful not to let it burn or catch too much at the bottom. When you are happy with the texture, taste and adjust seasoning, then stir through your wonderful chopped parsley, feel free to use more, it is such a delicious herb which lifts the flavour and seems to introduce a ‘clean’ note. We do it a disservice by using it only as garnish. This is delicious as a side dish to almost any main meal. It is wonderful as a very casual main, over some fragrant rice if you like or maybe with some polenta! Make it in big batches, keep the leftovers in the fridge and have it the next day for breakfast either on hot toast (or not) with a cheery fried egg on top – Bevan’s favourite – or any other egg of your preference. Enjoy!
If you are in the mood for something a little more special and elaborate, please try this Involtini recipe by Nigella Lawson – it wows vegetarians and carnivores alike. It takes a bit of preparation but is well worth it. We have adjusted it slightly to suit our dietary requirements – using millet or a mix of millet and quinoa instead of bulgar wheat and of course flavours are always a game of “lets see what we could do instead” in our home! Play and have some fun; this is a wonderful recipe to keep up your sleeve.