Eat the seasons… with aubergines!

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Aubergines, plump, pear-shaped variety.

One of nature’s seasonal gifts right now are plump, shiny skinned aubergines. They are one of my favourite summer ingredients as they are great at soaking up all kinds of flavours and work brilliantly in stews, tagines, curries and smoky Middle Eastern dips such as Baba ganoush. Aubergines also marry perfectly with lamb in the classic Greek dish, Moussaka, but I think that a little smoke and the flavour of the grill are what aubergine does best, so give yours some quality time over an open fire, on a barbecue, in a griddle pan or in a very hot oven. If you resist the temptation to separate them from the heat before they are totally deflated and almost burnt, you’ll be able to enjoy those silky strands of intense flavour in a multitude of exciting ways. The other day I just sliced a few aubergines, brushed them with spices and olive oil, seasoned them well with sea salt and threw them on the grill. After 2-3 minutes on each side I placed them on a large plate and scattered them with crumbled feta cheese and a few mint and coriander leaves. It was the most deliciously simple thing I had eaten in a long time!

Although the plump, pear-shaped variety, with its near-black shiny-skinned exterior, is probably the most familiar type to most of us, aubergines come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. All varieties share the same bland, mildly smokey flavour and flesh that’s spongey when raw but soft when cooked. In the past, many recipes recommended salting aubergines to reduce their bitter flavour. This isn’t really necessary now, although salting does make them absorb less oil when they’re fried. To prepare, wash the skin and trim off the stalk. Slice or cut the flesh into chunks just before cooking as it discolours quickly. When cooking with aubergines, be sure to use stainless steel as it will oxidise and discolour in contact with iron. Also keep it away from water, as it soaks it up like a sponge and all that wonderful flavour and texture will be lost.

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Rather like the tomato, for centuries Europeans thought aubergines were inedible, growing them as an ornamental plant and enjoying their dainty purple flowers and dramatic fruits more than their flavour. They were considered unhealthy, poisonous even – in fact, the Italian name, melanzana, comes from Latin malum insanum, or crazy fruit. During the 15th century, we learned, if not to love them, then at least to eat them, though it’s only in the last century that their delicious potential has been fully explored in western kitchens. This humble plant has played a major part in many popular regional cuisines throughout the world. The slightly bland flavour of the aubergine makes it the perfect blank slate to which rich and aromatic spices and herbs can be added, try this delicious, simple recipe and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Bon Profit!

Berejenas rellenas a la Mallorquina
Majorcan-style stuffed aubergines

INGREDIENTS
Serves 4
· 4 aubergines
· 250g minced pork
· 1 onion, finely chopped
· 3 garlic cloves, crushed
· 150ml olive oil
· 350g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
· 1tbsp tomato puree
· 200g grated manchego cheese
· A sprig of fresh thyme
· 1tspn tap de corti (Paprika)
· ¼ tsp ground Cinnamon
· 1tbsp flour
· 200ml white wine
· 50g fine breadcrumbs
· Seasoning

Method

Cut the aubergines in halve lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp, leaving the shells about a centimetre thick. Brush the shells with a little olive oil and place them under a hot grill until soft.

Chop the aubergine pulp and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed and fry the minced pork over a gentle flame. Add the chopped onion, crushed garlic and thyme and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, chopped aubergines, paprika, cinnamon, white wine and stir in the flour. Cook over a gentle flame until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is dry.

Arrange the aubergine shells on a baking tray and fill them with the stuffing. Top with grated manchego, fine breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil and a little paprika. Bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes and serve immediately.

Spiced Aubergines with Crumbled Feta and creamy walnut dressing

INGREDIENTS
Serves 4
· 3 large aubergines, sliced lengthways into ½ cm-thick
· 4tbsp olive oil
· 1tsp ground cumin
· 2tsp ras al hanout spice mix
· 1 lemon, juiced
· 1 garlic clove, crushed
· 200g feta cheese, crumbled
· A small bunch of fresh mint
· Salt and freshly ground pepper

Creamy walnut dressing
· Juice 1 lime
· 100g crème fraîche
· 2tbsp Natural Greek yoghurt
· 100g walnuts, chopped
· 2tbsp olive oil
· Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine 80g of walnuts with the crème fraîche, natural yoghurt, lime juice and olive oil in a food processor and blend to a puree. Season to taste.

Heat a heavy-bottomed griddle pan until very hot. Season the aubergine slices with spices and brush them with a little olive oil. Place them on the griddle pan and grill for 2 minutes and turn them over until soft and cooked through. Place the aubergines in a bowl. Mix together the lemon juice, garlic and olive oil with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle over the aubergines and leave to marinate for 5-10 minutes. To serve, arrange the aubergines on a platter, scatter the crumbled feta and mint leaves. Serve with creamy walnut dressing.


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