Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought something simply because it was too good to pass up? I have that moment all the time with things that I should just walk on by (Oreos, Kozy Shack rice pudding, Manchego cheese), but rarely with things like vegetables. Don’t get me wrong — I like my veggies just as much as the next girl, but they don’t exactly shout, “Eat me now, woman!” the way that sweets do.
Well, until this week. I was in the Harris Teeter with Nate, bumming around the produce aisle, when I happened upon giant eggplants. As in, unnaturally large eggplants. Like, size of a newborn baby eggplants. Nate joked that they probably came from a Super Fund site, but I’m pretty sure they just came from Chile or some other warm place.
I contemplated filling my cart with the purple beauties, but settled on two when I remembered — duh — there are only two of us here and a week’s worth of eggplant dishes is a wee bit overkill. Also, I only actually needed two big eggplants for a recipe I’d been dying to try from Rachel Allen’s Bake (courtesy of Nate’s wonderful momma). It’s called “Baked Aubergines (i.e. Eggplants) with Tomatoes, Basil, and Pine Nuts,” and it came with a tag line about being a delicious summer dish. Per usual, I decided that I would have to be the judge of that.
I was so sure that this recipe would rock my socks that I made it for the first time for my parents — typically a cardinal sin in my book. This dish takes a while because there are a number of steps where you sautee or cook something for 10, 20 or 30 minutes. But the directions themselves are perfectly straightforward and the recipe really isn’t tricky or complex at all.
And the finished product is oh, so good. The mixture of chopped eggplant, fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, onions, and garlic topped with melted cheese is perfectly seasoned and eggplant-y without any bitterness. The toasted pine nuts on top add a crunch to the dish, and bring to the recipe a wonderful nuttiness. We served this dinner with fresh sliced French bread and amazing Irish butter that we originally fell in love with the first time we visited our favorite restaurant, Restaurant Eve. All in all, this dish was simple and delicious and completely perfect.
Baked Aubergines with Tomatoes, Basil, and Pine Nuts
2 large eggplants
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely grated
1.5 lbs good red ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Pinch of chili flakes
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp chopped or torn basil leaves
1 ball of mozzarella, torn into pieces
4 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and, using a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edge intact. Chop the flesh, then place in a sieve sitting over a bowl adding a good pinch of salt to draw out any bitter juices. Place the eggplant halves on an oiled baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and cook for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and garlic, cover and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the onion is soft. Add the drained eggplant flesh, the tomatoes, chili flakes and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat for about 20-30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced. Add the chopped basil and season to taste.
4. Spoon the tomato sauce into the par-cooked eggplants, then add the torn mozzarella. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the eggplant is cooked at the sides and the mixture is hot and bubbling. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and serve.