Sunday, May 3, 2020

Aubergine Involtini – from aloof to alive and about to burst into song!

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I have mixed feelings about aubergine (eggplant). All flawless purple skin and gloss and youthful glow, it is the supermodel of the vegetable patch. I arrange it in the vegetable basket, surrounded by other shining beauties – ripe red tomatoes, peppers, and perhaps a lemon or two just because they are opposites on the colour wheel and provide a pleasing colour contrast.

Aubergines - about to burst into song! 

One by one the contents of that basket are plucked and used: the tomato sliced and sprinkled with salt, eaten just as it is; the pepper might be cut into strips as a crisp sweet snack; the lemons will probably end up juiced into hot water as an alternative to tea.
Too late I’ll remember the aubergine because it does not grab attention in the same way as its companions. It is downright boring on its own and needs the right sort company to bring it to life. Too often I forget to introduce it to complementary flavours and end up having to consign its shrivelled remains to the compost heap.
Introduce aubergine to a lemon and watch the sparks fly...
Niki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus has similar feelings about this vegetable describing it as “unpredictable, often bitter, and needing a lot of attention (or an unhealthy amount of lubrication) to cajole it into a companionable mood.” - you know the type!
If you were to seat Aubergine at a dinner party, you’d make sure it was next to Garlic, Parsley, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil. Such great company transforms it from aloof to alive. Next thing you know, it’ll be singing!

As a starter (or light lunch) for 2 you will need...
1 medium aubergine
100g cottage cheese*
100g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of whole chives

1         Remove both ends of the aubergine and slice lengthways into ½ cm slices – a mandolin is best for this job but mind your fingers (I speak from experience - ouch!). There is no need to salt and drain modern varieties of aubergine to leach out bitterness. 
2         Heat a ridged grill pan (or a frying pan) over a medium heat. Brush the slices with olive oil and cook in a single layer, for approximately 2 minutes each side. You’ll probably have to do this in a couple of batches. Carefully remove the cooked slices from the grill pan and leave to cool completely.

Aubergine gets a grilling

3          Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, mash the cottage cheese together with the feta cheese, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. No need to use salt as the feta will be salty and there are plenty of strong flavours in the mix.

Seat aubergine next to garlic, parsley, and lemon juice to transform it from aloof to alive!

4         Select the best 6 slices of aubergine (any reject slices can be used on crostini) and lay them out on a flat surface. Place 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture at the fatter end of each slice, about 2cm from the short edge. Lay a few whole chives across this and starting at the fat end, roll the aubergine slice so that it encloses the filling, with a plume of chives emerging from one end. Leave the finished roll on its side and repeat the process with the remaining 5 slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5         To serve, arrange upright (see photo) - 3 per portion. Diced cherry tomatoes make a colourful addition and if serving for lunch, a green salad completes the picture.
*I’ve used cottage cheese to bind the mixture because, post Lockdown, the bathroom scales has taken to saying “Gerroff will ya!”.  Ricotta or Philadelphia would be suitable full fat alternatives for this dish.

Updated and savoured with renewed appreciation - originally published January 2011
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