Grilled "Finger Eggplant" with Mint & Cedro Lemon Zest
The classic Italian dinner, beginning with an "antipasto", followed by a "primo" and "secondo piatto", followed by a refreshing salad and finished with an espresso and small sweet of some description, is truly a culinary celebration- and a wonderful one at that! But of course no one does that whole thing on a regular basis! You may do that on a Sunday or for guests, but of course, on a regular weekday night an Italian meal will be much more modest.
But the "antipasti", the little appetizers that you would enjoy before the meal proper, are a well-known and well-loved part of Italian cuisine- be it a simple melon and parma ham, some kind of grilled vegetable, marinated olives or stuffed peppers... there is always something for everyone at the antipasti spread of an Italian restaurant. But here is a little idea for a slightly different antipasto that you might like to try out... I know I will be making it again for sure!
As you can see, I used these wonderfully exotic looking, so-called "finger aubergines" and a lovely, huge, Sicilian "Cedro" lemon to make mine- but this simple little appetizer can just as well be made using regular eggplant and lemon... as long as you have plenty of fresh mint, some chili flakes and a good olive oil, you are just 20 minutes or so away from creating a great dish of yummy food. Are you with me on this one? Good- then I'll begin!
The first step here as with most eggplant dishes, is to slice and salt them and to let them sit for 10-15 minutes, until you see little droplets of liquid rising to the surface. This is where any of the bitterness or sourness that MAY be in your eggplants will be lurking- so give them a very quick rinse under the tap (you do NOT want to get them soaked, waterlogged and soggy) and get your grill-pan, griddle or actual grill nice and hot and ready!
Grill the eggplants first on the skin side- after 3-4 minutes you will notice them starting to turn from purple to brown and beginning to soften. At this point I sprinkled them with salt pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and then flipped them over to get the other side brown- and whilst that was happening, I boiled a little water, ready to blanche the lemon zest in.
I sliced 2 nice strips of lemon peel off and then chopped them very thinly and dropped them into a cupful of boiling water- also to draw out the bitterness and sourness and to leave us with a mild, lemon flavored zest to add to our eggplant in just a while...
Give the eggplant 4-5 minutes from either side, whether it be the kind that I used here, or regular eggplant cut into slices. You want it to get some nice scorch-marks as they will give it a great flavor... and speaking of flavor- we have a nice bunch of fresh mint to chop up nice and finely.
As soon as the eggplant is nice and soft, golden and brown, it can come of the heat and be transformed into something kinda magical!
Something that is optional, is a little fresh garlic... if you are going to add it- now is the time- very finely chopped or grated and sprinkled over the eggplant whilst it is hot, so that the residual heat will "cook" it whilst you finish preparing it.
Sprinkle the eggplant nice and generously with finely chopped mint, with the blanched and shredded lemon zest and with a generous sprinkle of chili flakes... or if that sounds too spicy for you, then some coarsely ground black pepper.
Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and then carefully toss or fold-over the eggplant in order to get it nicely coated in all of these really simple but tasty and delicious ingredients. It's as simple as that- it is just best to do it whilst the eggplant is still warm as it will absorb the flavors much better then... plus... what have you got to wait for!?
Once prepared, this is a wonderful dish to serve up either hot or cold. The lemon and mint really make even the most tired and humble eggplant come to life and become something wonderful and exciting! Give it a try- and you'll know why! And do be sure to enjoy!!!