The one nice thing about a wet and cold Scottish summer is the tomatoes. No, it doesn’t make them grow better. (They either come from Spain or are grown in poly-tunnels.) Cold weather just makes it much more pleasant to cook luscious tomato sauces and bakes. If I were from a big Italian family, getting ready for the summer tomato-sauce bottling party, I’d pray for a cold day like today.
Craving warm sweaters and wintery food, yet with full access to summer vegetables, I decided that nothing could be better than baked eggplants, mozzarella and tomatoes.
- 3 eggplants/aubergines
- several tablespoons of olive oil
- 8 ripe tomatoes (or two400g tins of tomatoes if it really is winter)
- 1 onion
- 1/2 carrot – grated
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 balls fresh mozzarella
- handful of grated parmesan
Slice the eggplants into 3/4 cm slices and lay them in a large colander, sprinkling a little salt over each layer. Sit this over another bowl, or the sink, to catch the juices. (You can skip this step if you like. I don’t find that the salting alters the flavour that much, but I do suspect that unsalted eggplants absorb more oil when fried. I’ll have to check this out with my food-technologist mother.) After an hour or two, rinse the eggplants and pat to dry. Heat a frying pan or griddle, brush each side of the aubergine with olive oil and fry until soft and browned on both sides.
While the eggplant is salting, make the tomato sauce. Cut a small cross in the skin on the bottom of each tomato and place them in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes, leave for a minute and then refresh in cold water. Peel off the skins. Chop roughly. Chop the onion and sweat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Crush the garlic and add, along with the carrot, to the onion. Fry for one minute before adding the tomatoes and cinnamon. Leave to burble and simmer for around half an hour.
Spread a thin layer of the sauce on the base of baking dish. Layer fresh basil leaves, slices of the fried eggplant and then slices of fresh mozzarella over the top. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Finish with a layer of sauce followed by a sprinkling of parmesan. Bake in a 180C pre-heated oven for 35 minutes or until the top is golden.
This dish is another of what is fast becoming a new sub-category of food for me: the mid-week-two-parter. These are meals that can be cooked in two sessions – the second being relatively short and uncomplicated, in order that a tired husband can assemble and feed it to a hungry toddler within half an hour.
This one didn’t even require assembly. On Monday, I fried the eggplant, made the tomato sauce, and layered everything together. All my heroic pair had to do on Tuesday was get it into a preheated oven and make a salad.