Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eggplant with anchovies, garlic and tomatoes

Eggplant, anchovies, garlic and tomatoes. Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 16 May 2012
Again, winter hits with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer. I don’t know why I’m surprised, because it happens most years. With the end of the warmth, goes my need for fresh and light salads. My tastebuds crave something just a little more substantial, but not the full winter stodge, well not yet anyway.

It’s time to celebrate what’s left in my garden to eat. I do have some winter vegetables planted now, and I am pretty excited about the prospect of cooking some broad bean dishes. So, with what’s left of the summer harvest, I now have in my basket, eggplants, rocquet, heirloom tomatoes and thyme.

It’s the first time I’ve grown eggplant, and I was surprised at the time it took for it to grow, but not as surprised as being a victim of the spikes protruding from their stalks. As cool as it is to ‘grow your own’, my bloody finger is testament to the hardships of the grow what you eat philosophy. The upkeep and maintenance of a vegetable garden is not all roses, and the commitment it takes, is not to be sneezed at, well that is, if you don’t’ suffer from allergies.

The flavour of eggplant is muted and musky and it just begs for tasty additions to pick it up. There is also something oddly comforting about the texture of cooked eggplant, it becomes soft and floppy and melts in the mouth. At the last step, pouring over the umamied oven juices, shoots the flavour up the scale. I love that word. Finally, we’ve found a description for it, rather than Nigella’s lusciousness and Jamie’s deliciousness.

This combination of eggplant, tomato and lemon juice is still light enough for the early onset winter time of year, but the cooking of the eggplant provides a meatiness that gives substance to the dish. I put this as a side dish with some fillet steak, providing some blokieness to the dish. But sure, you could happily put this with chicken, or as a stand alone meatless meal and crusty bread, perfect as a vegetarian lunch.

Serves 4

2 large eggplants, sliced into ½ centimetre lengths
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
bunch thyme
3 medium sized tomatoes, best flavour, finely sliced
7 anchovies
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of sea salt
cracked black pepper
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil, extra
rocquet to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place eggplants in an oiled baking dish, in a single layer with the cut side up. Drizzle with the olive oil, scatter the garlic, anchovies, thyme sprigs and salt over the eggplant slices and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned and softened.

Remove eggplants and arrange on a serving dish with the rocquet and place the sliced tomatoes on top.

Add the lemon juice and extra olive oil to the baking dish. Return to the oven for five minutes until the juices are hot. Scrape the bottom of the dish to release all the cooked on flavours and mix together. Drizzle the juices over the eggplant and tomatoes, sprinkle with cracked pepper and serve.

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