I am heartily convinced that people who claim not to like aubergines have only ever experienced them in something like badly-cooked ratatouille or curry. If you don't treat a noble aubergine properly in such a preparation, it will be disgusting. It will be spongy and tough in the centre and slimy around the outside, watery and generally vile. An aubergine is not really a boiling vegetable. Stewing it in liquid will not do it any favours. The best way to treat an aubergine is to grill or bake it until its flesh turns from springy and spongy to molten, smoky and silky. Its skin will wrinkle and crisp, while its inside turns deliciously moist, full of rich, earthy flavour.
The only problem with this is that it takes a while. It's no real effort, but you do have to roast the aubergines for a good length of time to get the proper amount of molten-ness and smoky flavour. You then have to peel off the skin, and mash the flesh with your choice of seasoning to really bring out the best in it. Classic additions are garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs - add these and you've got something approaching the middle Eastern dip, baba ganoush; add tahini as well, and you have moutabal.
Among the goodies I was recently sent to try by Belazu, producers of mediterranean ingredients and olives, is roasted aubergine paste. This is rather like an aubergine tapenade. It concentrates all that delicious smoky aubergine flavour into a spreadable condiment that can be used straight from the jar, rather than requiring faffing around with aubergines and seasoning. It's not the prettiest thing ever, being a sort of murky grey cement colour, but this shouldn't put you off, because it packs a deep punch of aubergine flavour.
The paste has a slight smoky bitterness, so is great combined with sweet or tart ingredients. I've used it to make a sort of mediterranean bruschetta, spreading the paste over toasted sourdough (homemade, of course), then topping it with roasted tomatoes. As with aubergines, roasting tomatoes concentrates all their delicious flavour. It also turns them slightly sweet and gooey, a perfect complement to the deep, earthy flavours of the aubergine paste. I added torn mozzarella for a light, fresh flavour to balance everything else, then a scattering of pomegranate seeds. Pomegranate seeds are more than just a pretty garnish (although I admit, I do throw them on just about anything to make it look a bit sexy): their sharp burst of sweetness works really well with aubergine. Finally, a few leaves of coriander, both for colour and for their slight citrus note.
This is a lovely light lunch or dinner, full of intense, bold flavours. It's also beautifully colourful, which is exactly what we need at this time of year. Make sure you get good bread and good mozzarella (the buffalo stuff in a pot rather than a bag, preferably), and you can't really go wrong.
Try it out on self-confessed aubergine haters. I reckon they just might love it.
Aubergine bruschetta with roasted tomatoes, mozzarella and pomegranate (serves 2):
- 20 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 slices sourdough bread
- 1 jar Belazu aubergine paste
- 16 mozzarella pearls (or a ball of mozzarella, torn into chunks)
- Seeds from half a pomegranate
- Coriander, to garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the tomatoes in a small oven dish and toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast for around 20 minutes, until charred in places and starting to burst. Remove and set aside.
Toast the sourdough slices and divide between two plates. Spread the bread with the aubergine paste, then scatter over the tomatoes, mozzarella and pomegranate seeds. Garnish with some sprigs of coriander.