This summer has flown by — I’ve been out and about enjoying the sunshine in Brooklyn and even was able to escape the city for a couple weekends here and there.
One such weekend, I joined my aunts and their friends for a girl’s weekend in Ocean City, Maryland where my aunt Debs has a house. A few summers ago, we had a lovely weekend with some incredible home cooked meals (where we tried our hands at gnocchi and pan-fried soft shell crabs). This summer’s retreat was similarly gastronomically inclined and I gotta say, I made a few really great dishes.
One of these dishes, inspired by Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of New York’s Prune restaurant, has got to the best appetizer I’ve ever made.
It’s a simple roasted eggplant spread, flavored with garlic and olive oil. The secret to this dish is roasting the eggplant… going further than you’d expect, charring the skin until its blistered and black either over an open flame or under the broiler. I’ve often heard that the difference between a home cook and a restaurant chef is taking ingredients further than what your comfort zone would be – in this case, going that extra step and basically charring the crap out of the eggplant, until you’d think it’s beyond repair is what’s going to bring you this amazing smokey flavor.
After the eggplant is charred, blackened and blistered, move it into a large metal bowl and cover in plastic wrap. The eggplant will release its juices, as it steams within the bowl, and once you scoop out the roasted flesh, incorporate it with the juices, saving all that amazing flavor. Add crushed garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and even chopped parsley if you’re so inclined, and you’ve got a simple, mind-blowing appetizer.
I have to admit, I’m not a huge eggplant fan, but this preparation made me a convert! We served it with some amazing grilled flatbread, pepper jack cheese and some sauteed sausage. It was a ton of delicious food and that night only one of several courses. By the end of the night, we were stuffed!
- 1½ pounds standard purple-black eggplant
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1¼ tsp kosher salt
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley (optional)
- Set the eggplants directly on the burners of the stove and turn the flames to high. Allow the eggplants to char on all sides, turning intermittently with kitchen tongs, taking care not to puncture or split them when turning. They will do that on their own when they are cooked. The eggplants will smoke and spark and give off terrific aroma. Char eggplants over open flame for approximately 14 minutes, or until cooked through. When the skin splits and the eggplants start to collapse, place in a large stainless steel bowl and cover tightly with plastic film.
- Let sit for 15 minutes to steam in their own skins, then uncover and let cool enough so you can handle them.
- On a cutting board, with a sharp knife, split the eggplants in half from stem to base. Do not discard the bowl in which the eggplants steamed. With a large spoon, scoop out all the flesh and put it in a clean bowl, taking care not to carry along any of the bitter, charred black skin. Discard all the blackened skin.
- In the bottom of the bowl in which the charred eggplants steamed there will be a rich and slightly viscous dark brown liquid with many flakes and bits of burnt and blackened eggplant skin swimming in it. Through a fine-mesh strainer, pour all of that delicious smokey liquid over the eggplant flesh, keeping all the blackened bits out.
- Gently break down any large pieces of the eggplants by cutting it in the bowl with the sharp edge of the spoon or by taking a knife in each hand and giving the flesh a few scissors-like passes. The eggplant should be a little chunky but manageable.
- Gently add in the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt, taking care not to overstir.
- Serve a good spoonful of eggplant with two slices of flatbread of your choice and some grilled lemon slices. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.