Eggplant with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint, Basil & Salted Ricotta
I absolutely love eggplant! Do you? Well, I would hope so... if not, you probably have never had them prepared nicely and are thinking of something greasy and bland- rather than something lean, juicy and flavorful like these!
Filled with the flavors of Sicily, this is one dish I hope you try out and learn to love as much as I do!
Mint, basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper and tomato... well that's about all it takes to transform one humble Sicilian eggplant into an appetizer, side dish or modest meal in itself... that is fit for a king!
I used a nice, round eggplant for my dish as it is better to portion into nice quarters. With the herbs to fill the eggplant, a shallot and a squeeze of tomato paste to enhance the cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of salty and delicious Ricotta cheese... I was good to go- and so eager to enjoy!
For my vegan friends out there- fear not- as this is a wonderful dish even without the salted Ricotta! And you can take my word for it- it really is!
Step one is to top, tail and peel the eggplant- it makes it much nicer to eat and reduces the cooking time immensely!
Next- cut the eggplant into quarters and take a look and see how the insides happen to be- sometimes, if you are unlucky, there will be larger sections between the seeds than I had here, which tend to fall apart once cooked- hopefully you won't have that kind! You need a nice, dense interior that will hold together well...
... because the next step is to make 2 cuts into the outside of each quarter and to carefully sprinkle a little salt into them and then to slide in a couple of slices each of mint and basil... don#t worry- it's not as tricky as you may think! One tip- if you DO have difficulty, use a knife to slide the leaves into the slits.
The next step is to brown the eggplant from all sides with just a little olive oil.
And once the eggplant has a nice golden color- you are ready to add the tomatoes and get a little saucy!
In order to make a little fruity "sauce", I finely chopped the shallot and halved the tomatoes- I decided to leave out any garlic this time around, but a little crushed garlic would also work wonderfully in this.
Simply add the shallot and tomatoes to the pan with a hint more olive oil, salt, pepper and some finely chopped parsley and sautée until the shallot becomes transparent and starts to brown a little.
Next, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and let this sizzle away for a minute or two before deglazing the pan with enough boiling water to cover the tomatoes. Stir the paste into the water until it is nicely blended, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover the pan and let the eggplant cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, gently turn it over on to the other side, check if you need any more water, then return the lid and allow it to cook for 10 minutes more until tender.
By the time the eggplant is tender- maybe 25-30 minutes in all, the tomatoes will have cooked down, all of the water will have reduced the paste into a nice sauce and everything will just be bursting with all of the amazing flavors that are trapped in there... everything added- and nothing taken away!
I have to say that for me, this is about the best that eggplant can ever taste... nothing compliments its own flavor better than mint and basil! It is just so aromatic and delicious!
Tender, juicy and cooked to perfection!