Tuesday, May 12, 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.
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  1. I'm so happy you posted this! I identified with your entire post!! The eggplant is simply stunning, but the only time I have actually ventured a taste was about 15 years ago and I received a mush, yucky lump of something that I preferred not to eat again. My dad on the other hand loves these and frequently talks about its wonderful qualities. I don't see it. Yet. However! Your dish here actually looks good. I'm inspired... I just might try! Thank you for making me think twice!

  2. Hi Kim, thanks for stopping by. The dish that got first got me hooked on eggplant is Melizanosalta - very popular in Crete, it is like a silky-textured hummus (http://alchemy-fabulousfood.blogspot.com/2010/06/melitzanosalata-time-for-cool-dip.html) If your dad hasn't tried it yet, then you'll have to introduce him to it!

  3. You don't need to talk me into eggplant but I do recognize it's finicky nature. I love the quote and your eggplant dinner party analogy!
    These little bundles look delicious! I could definitely put a few of them away for lunch.

  4. These are so gorgeous! I love the filling with the combo of feta and cottage cheese!

  5. Your description of eggplant rang true to me. I look forward to trying your recipe. It truly looks incredible - I've not seen anything like it!

  6. You have turned Aubergine into an amazing dish. Nice presentation and a delicious filling.

  7. Domini Kemp had a recipe about 6 months ago for Aubergine Involtini that was very different

    You dipped the slices of aubergine in flour fried then stuffed them with the cheese then cover them in a rich tomato sauce and bake - it was lovely but very fussy to make

    Normally with aubergines I would slice them - put some tomato puree or chopped tinned tomatoes and then some cheddar cheese on them and bake for about 15/20 minutes

  8. Wow, what spectacular dish!!! The involtini are as beautiful as the title, three languages rolled into one! Magical food indeed!!! Only a brilliant alchemist like you can turn humble ingredients to noble dimensions!!! Delicious!!!!

  9. This post is so cute! I love the idea of all these veggies having a little dinner party. Eggplant can definitely be the wallflower of the group, but it sure can end up being very delightful. :D

  10. Eggplant and feta! Yum! Eggplant is one of those veggies that I hated as a kid and have grown to love as an adult! Thanks for posting this, I've been looking for new ways to prepare it!

  11. I went to my grocer for some fruit.
    When he asked me, if I'd like to take a root!
    But then he made a gesture so obscene,
    When he displayed his purple aubergine.
    And I said "dahling have it ripened on the vine.
    But since you've shown me yours, I shall not show you mine!
    [an extract from Show me yours! by Dorothy Darker]

    I hope one shall never look at the legume the same way again!!!

    DD xx

  12. Those bundles do look marvelous. Every time I pick up an eggplant at the store, and my husband is with me, he warns, "I'm not eating that!" But maybe he'd try this. And I love calling them aubergines instead . . . much prettier. All in the name,

  13. These are absolutely beautiful! The grill marks on the eggplant are perfect! What a beautiful appetizer. We host a lot of dinner parties at our house... these would fit perfectly on the menu!


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