I bought Gino D’Acampo’s Hidden Italy on the spur of the moment; it was on offer in WH Smith for a bargain £7. I’ve got a few of Gino’s books now. Like a true and good Italian, he keeps things simple, reasonably authentic – and his recipes work! Which isn’t something that can be said of all TV-famous chefs!
The Insalata di Melanzane con Peperonicini Grigliati was one of the recipes that took my fancy when I first looked through – one of the contributing factors for actually buying the book! It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to trying it out.
I love aubergines. It seems slightly strange to say they are one of my favourite vegetables when they look so un-vegetable like with their dark purple skins and creamy-brown interiors. I was brought up to think good vegetables are green. So ingrained is my mother’s teaching that we all need to eat meat and two veg (one potato; the other green) a day that it’s taken me years to escape this moulding of my early culinary life. I certainly no longer each meat every day. There’s so much press for the wonderful nutritional value of those brightly coloured vegetables like carrots and broccoli that we can fail to see the value of less beautiful veg like potatoes, for instance, and the glorious aubergine. Actually I think a shiny, dark purple aubergine is quite beautiful. It is also a good source of ‘phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and beta-carotene … cleans blood, prevents strokes and haemorrhages and protects arteries damaged by cholesterol’ (source: The Food Doctor: Healing foods for mind and body by Ian Marber). We should be eating them all the time!
Actually, I almost do. Not generally quite as simply as this evening but because they’re an essential ingredient in some of my favourite dishes, like Moussaka, Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Pasta alla Norma and Ratatouille; or griddled with feta or burrata. I’ve made a great curry with them and a fabulous tagine. They are endlessly versatile.
Gino’s recipe used 4 aubergines to serve 4 so I adjusted it to make half that quantity. It did make plenty for 2 as a side dish in the end so I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Aubergine Salad with Chilli, Capers, Mint & Parsley – Serves 2 as a side dish
- 2 aubergines (about 250g each)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 fresh medium-hot red chilli
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon capers (drained)
- good pinch sea salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise. Place on a lightly oiled baking tray, skin side down. Brush a little more extra virgin olive oil over the top of the aubergine. Place in a 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 oven for about 40 minutes. When a knife goes in easily and they’re soft, remove from the oven.
With a spoon and fork (take care – the aubergine will be very hot), spoon the flesh of the aubergine into a strainer placed over a bowl. Scrape all the flesh off and throw away the skins. Leave the aubergine flesh to drain, retaining the juice for later.
While the aubergine is cooling, place the chilli on a hot griddle and cook until lightly charred.
Remove and either chop into pieces or slice (which I did). I also threw away most of the seeds as they’re very hot.
Measure 30ml of the aubergine juice into a bowl. Add the lemon juice, capers, salt and 30ml extra virgin olive oil. Whisk thoroughly until thickened.
Now lay the aubergine flesh on a serving plate and chop up a bit – a spoon will work. Pour over the dressing. Garnish with the chilli, mint and parsley. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
I served the aubergine with a griddled lamb steak and rocket & radicchio salad.
It really was a wonderful salad. The aubergine flesh was so soft and silky and the flavours of the dressing with the chilli warmth was fantastic.
I’m so pleased I finally got round to trying it! You could serve it with chicken too, I think, and Gino suggests it goes well with fish. Or perhaps make it as part of a mezze meal with a selection of little sharing dishes. Whatever way you eat it, I’m sure you will love it.