Thursday, 29 November 2012

Truly Eggceptional!

Melanzane al Forno con Pomodorini, Erbe Miste & Mollica 
Oven-Baked Eggplant with Cherry Tomatoes & Herb Breadcrumbs

So... three days later, it was time to finally do something with the lovely, large, luscious purple eggplant that my colleague Peggy surprised me with this Monday morning. How could she have known I had already bought my own eggplant over the weekend?!! But how could I possibly eat that much eggplant all on my own anyway? Well the truth of the matter is... prepared in this way... it is pretty easy to eat a lot!

To be honest, this preparation was based on the artichoke recipe from Sunday evening, as the combination of sun-dried tomato and mint also goes wonderfully with eggplant... and the crispy bread crumbs add the crunch that bring this dish to like, but also that balance it out and make it more satisfying... in every way!

The first thing I did, was to cut the eggplant into relatively thin slices and to sprinkle it with salt on each side. I then let it sit for 15-20 minutes, for the salt to work its magic and draw the bitterness out of the eggplant, and in the meantime I prepared the herb bread crumbs and cranked-up the oven so that it would be nice and hot and ready to get baking!

For the bread crumbs, I finely chopped parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme, added a crushed clove of garlic, salt, pepper and a little lemon zest, as well as some freshly grated nutmeg. I stirred these together into the crumbs and added a little olive oil and a bit of grated salted ricotta cheese. I also added a couple of dun dried tomatoes, cut into a fine dice. That's a lot of flavors... and the best thing about it is that they are all wonderful on their own and even more exceptional together!

After 15 minutes or so, the eggplant had given off quite a bit of the bitter fluids it holds and I carefully squeezed out the rest, then gave the eggplant a quick rinse to get rid of the excess salt. Of course now the eggplant slices were rather damp- which was fine, as their next stop was to be for 5 minutes in the hot oven. And whilst they were pre-cooking, I had the chance to quickly grate a little parmesan cheese, slice the cherry tomatoes and pluck plenty of basil, ready to get busy and put things all together!

5 minutes later and the eggplant was pretty steamy and rather soft- which was just perfect, as it cut the cooking time considerably- except for the fact that it needed to cool-off a little before I could get going!

And basically it is a very simple procedure- the eggplant gets coated in the same way, layer for layer, until the baking dish is full. You start off with a sprinkle of bread crumbs- just so that the first layer doesn't stick to the dish, then the first slice of egg plant. Sprinkle this with the herb-infused crumbs, then lay out 2-3 leaves of basil on top and 5-6 slices of cherry tomato. 

Repeat the layer-building until, the dish is full, then drizzle everything very lightly with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or so at 350°F. After 30 minutes, upon removing the foil, you will be greeted by a blast of wonderfully fragrant herb perfume- the mint and garlic most prominent, and by eggplant slices that are now soft and delicious. 

But that is not enough! Next, it is time to add a drizzle of honey over everything- not too much, but just enough to balance the salty sun-dried tomatoes and the rich herb flavor. And of course, back into the oven it goes! This time, without the foil, so that the bread crumbs that are on the top surface can dry out and crisp up and turn gorgeously golden brown, along with the salted ricotta.

The best way to enjoy eating this, if you ask me, is to carefully fold over each slice and to roll it up before cutting into it- that's what I did! The result being that you have a soft, creamy eggplant to bite into, with a crispy herb, tomato and basil filling- and a wonderful combination it is too! This was so delicious, I think it could even convert those strange people out there who "are not sure whether they like egg plant or not"- made in this way, they is simply no question... you have gotta love it! And I am sure that you will!

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