Eggplant is the most luxurious vegetable I know. There is something about its texture, particularly when oven-roasted, that transports to exotic places where dreamy color, wealth, flavor abound. It is gorgeous from inception to full growth, its taut, shiny purple to creamy white skin almost silken in texture over its voluptuous flesh that just waits to be transformed,
Eggplant can be hearty, meaty and full of character, or cloud-like and tender, dissolving at first bite. It changes so much depending on how it is prepared that it can be served nearly every day of the week, and nearly every day be completely different.
One of my favorite ways to prepare eggplant is the simplest. I cut it into thick (generous 1/4-inch) slices and put these on an oiled baking sheet. I brush them with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven, turning them once, midway through cooking. The slices emerge golden and slightly crisp on the outside, almost mousse-like on the inside.
Depending on the occasion, these eggplant slices might serve as a bed for roasted rabbit, the whole anointed with a warm, chili vinaigrette; they might be the basis for an eggplant parmiggiano; or sometimes I alternate roasted eggplant slices with fresh, fat slices of sun-warmed beefheart tomatoes. I drizzle over olive oil, sprinkle everything with cumin salt, and garnish with tapenade and small, fresh basil leaves. Call it a first course, call it a main course, call it easy, and finally call it just about the best thing you’ve ever eaten!
EGGPLANT AND TOMATOES
AUBERGINE ROTI AUX TOMATOES
For the Eggplant:
4 tablespoons cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium eggplant, sliced into thin (1/4-inch) rounds
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large, ripe tomatoes, preferably beef heart variety, cored and thickly sliced
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin salt (see recipe), or to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup (about 200g) tapenade
1/2 cup (5g) basil leaves
Fleur de sel
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
- Lightly oil a heavy baking sheet with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet, then brush them thoroughly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake in the center of the oven until they begin to soften and turn golden, about 15 minutes. Turn them, and return to the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Alternate the eggplant slices and the tomato slices on a large platter; you’ll have more eggplant than tomato slices, so you’ll need to double up. Drizzle over the olive oil, concentrating on the tomatoes, then sprinkle the cumin salt over all. Place the tapenade in the center of the tomatoes and eggplant, and sprinkle the basil leaves over all. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.
4 to 6 servings
SEL AU CUMIN
I like to have seasoning mixtures on hand to dress up a meal, and this is a favorite. I strew it over freshly slice cucumbers dressed with Lemon Oil, on avocados drizzled with pistachio oil, on fish fillets, eggplant, a potato gratin straight from the oven, or over fresh Swiss chard that I’ve melted to tenderness. It is universal, and universally appealing.
ASTUCE: I keep this mixture in an airtight jar in my spice drawer, but it still doesn’t last forever which is why I make it in small quantities. This way it is always fresh and sprightly with flavor.
I prefer to grind the cumin and the salt in a mortar and pestle, because it gives a mixture that is nicely combined but still has much of its delicate “crunch.” If you don’t have a mortar and pestle do this in a coffee grinder, but be gentle about it – you don’t want fine dust, but a full-textured mixture.
2 tablespoons very fresh cumin seeds
4 teaspoons fleur de sel
- Place the cumin seeds in a small, heavy skillet over low heat and toast them until they turn golden and begin to emit a fragrant aroma, which will take 3 to 4 minutes. Remove them from the heat and transfer them to a mortar, or a spice or coffee grinder. Add the salt and grind the spices together until they are uniformly but coarsely ground. It should be very “sprinkalable.”
- Place the mixture in an airtight jar, and keep in a dark place.
3 mounded tablespoons