When I was a teenager I was convinced I didn’t like aubergines. They were just slimy black bits I’d get in takeaway curries sometimes that would be picked out and put to one side in disgust. Then I went to Italy for a holiday and experienced how they should be; and I was a total convert within a week. By the end of the holiday I was eating charred, cold slices of aubergine as a side. Turns out I’d just eaten poorly cooked aubergines, and thought that was what they were like. I think a lot of people are the same too, mention aubergines in a room full of people and half of them will probably pull an unimpressed face. But that experience taught me to keep trying foods, even if you hated it last time, try it again, cooked in a different way, you may be surprised.
Aubergines (or Egg Plant, for my followers over the pond) absorbs a lot of liquid whilst it’s cooking, which is why they can go slimy. If you’re going to cook them in a sauce from raw, you need to salt them first to draw out the moisture, so when it absorbs the sauce, it doesn’t go as wet – slice them up and put them in a bowl with a good handful of salt, mix it up so each piece is well coated and leave for 10-15 mins. Then you rinse them under cold water and squeeze out as much liquid as possible before adding it to a curry etc.
But the easiest (and in my opinion, the tastiest) way to prepare aubergines is to flash fry them like in the recipe below. The key is to put a small amount of oil on the veg and cook in a hot, dry pan. If you put the oil in the pan like you normally wood when frying, the first batch will drink up all the oil and you’ll have to top it up every time you add more aubergine or turn them over. Before you know it you will have used a vast amount of oil and the Aubergines may well become slimy, giving you a mouth full of oil when you take a bite instead of the delicious aubergine flavour and texture. These cooked slices can then be added to sauces safely, they don’t absorb as much once they’re cooked.
Cooked properly, aubergines have a lovely, unique flavour which is heightened with a bit of charring; and a texture than will fall apart in your mouth. Pair it with crunchy courgettes, rich tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella and you’ve got a match made in heaven. All it needs to serve is a fresh leaf salad and a cold glass of white wine.
Leftovers can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge and then warmed through in the microwave. Take into work with a slice of crusty bread for guaranteed lunch envy.
Ready in 40 mins (20 mins prep, 20 mins bake) – serves 2.
- Olive oil
- 1 small aubergine, sliced length ways
- 1 courgette, sliced length ways
- 1 white onion, finely diced
- 2 fresh tomatoes, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
- 1x 390g (or there abouts) pouch of Passata
- Half a teaspoon of basil
- Half a teaspoon of oregano
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 125g of mozzarella
- A good pinch of Parmesan (optional)
- Preheat oven to 200c / 180c fan / gas mark 6.
- Pore 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil over the aubergines and courgettes, making sure there is a small amount on each side of every slice. – Pic 1
- Put a large dry (no oil in the pan, only on the veg) frying pan onto a high heat and char the aubergines and courgettes, in batches, so they are brown on each side. – Pic 2 & 3
- Meanwhile, put a tablespoon of olive oil, and the onion into a saucepan on a medium/high heat and cook for a few mins until the onions are translucent.
- Add the fresh tomatoes and garlic. – Pic 4
- Cook for a few mins until the tomatoes start to break down, then add the puree and lemon juice. – Pic 5
- Cook for a few mins to take the bitterness out of the puree, then turn the heat down slightly and add the passata. – Pic 6
- Let the sauce simmer for 5 or 10 mins, stirring regularly.
- In an oven proof dish, place a layer of aubergines and courgettes, then a layer of sauce, then a layer of mozzarella – Pic 7, 8 & 9.
- Keep layering until you’ve used up all your ingredients, finishing with mozzarella and a sprinkle of Parmesan if you like. – Pic 10
- Bake for 20 mins, or until the sauce is bubbling away around the sides and the cheese on top is starting to brown. – Pic 11
- Serve with a fresh leaf salad and No Butter Garlic Bread.