Lately it feels like I’m living in Fat: An appreciation of a misunderstood Ingredient by Canadian author Jennifer McLagan. For the purposes of this blog and a few potluck suppers along the way, I’ve made cheese crackers, liver mousse with figs and sherry, a lot of skin-on chicken and today’s Cooking Club recipe: Pasta with fried eggplant sauce.
My colleagues at the Cooking Italy club had expressed concern behind the scenes so I can’t pretend I wasn’t warned that this recipe was calorie-laden. The amount of oil required to fry the eggplant, i.e. 1.5 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet, is daunting when you consider that eggplant acts like a sponge the moment you acquaint it with any liquid.
So I announced that I would be roasting the eggplant in the oven to cut down on fat. On D-day, I chickened out or put my brave on—depends how you want to look at it—and cooked the recipe as written by Marcella Hazan in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking bible. Damn the torpedoes or more to the point, welcome the love handles around the hips.
Eggplant, or melanzana as they say in Italy, is arguably the most popular vegetable with my family whether oven-roasted, ratatouille-ready, served as aubergine caviar, baba ghanoush and, yes, sichuan-style as shown below.
I wish I could lay claim to this amazing eggplant dish but we ordered it last at Montreal Chinatown’s Chuan Xiang Qing restaurant. Admittedly, anyone who can feast on this Asian chili oil extravaganza can hardly be expected to balk at Marcella’s fried eggplant.
The dish is super easy, quite tasty and…rich. The fried eggplant gives it an almost smoky flavour that at times reminded me of bacon, go figure. So how did my family feel about it? Well, Monsieur is turning 43 in early December and he asked that I make it again for his birthday supper. (Generally speaking, all the Cooking Italy female bloggers were reticent while all the husbands cheered.) Kiddo turned up his nose at the unfamiliar “tomato” sauce. As for me I am still on the fence about the fat. And that’s something you won’t hear often from this foodie who hates demonizing any essentially natural food.
(Don’t tell but I will do this recipe again—with a tweak. Next time, I plan on using an eggplant cut in half, sprinkled with olive oil on the cut side, then oven roasted until tender. Question is, will Monsieur notice? Check back to find out!)
Eggplant sauce with tomato and red chili pepper
Note: What I liked best about this sauce is the fact that it provides a nice change of pace from regular tomato sauce while boosting your vegetable intake. Which is a nice plus if your pint-sized picky eater agrees to eat it, of course.
• About 500 g (1 pound) of eggplant
• Enough vegetable oil to fry the eggplant
• 45 ml (3 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
• 7.5 ml (1.5 tsp) chopped garlic
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped parsley
• 450 ml (1.75 cups) canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, in their juices (I always end up losing opened cans, so I used all 796 ml)
• Chopped hot red chili pepper, to taste
• 500 g (1 pound) spaghettini, cooked
1. Trim ends, peel and slice eggplant lengthwise into 1 cm (3/8 in) thick slices. Place slices in a colander, sprinkling with salt in between. Place in a dish (or clean kitchen sink) and let steep at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to cook, rub and dry each slice thoroughly with paper towels.
2. Pour 4 cm (1.5 in) of oil into a large frying pan on high heat. Test the oil by dipping the end of one eggplant slice into it; if it sizzles, start adding in eggplant without overlapping. Cook until golden, then turn. Never turn more than once. When brown on both sides, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Repeat until all the eggplant is fried.
3. Make a tomato sauce by frying the garlic into the olive oil until lightly coloured. Do not brown. Add remaining ingredients except pasta and cook around 25 minutes or until oil floats to the surface. (Honestly, here I made my usual tomato sauce, using chopped onion and hot pepper flakes, but whatever floats your boat.)
4. Cut fried eggplant into slivers, add to sauce to warm up, adjust seasoning and serve on pasta. Enjoy.