Melanzane alla griglia for Barbara

Barbara, at winosandfoodies, has just been dining with the Societa Dante Aligheri during their Italian Day celebrations in Auckland. Her photos capture the food beautifully and I love the particular variety of colourful antipasti, especially the grilled eggplant.

Thai makeua oop, rataouille, baba ganouj and grilled haloumi 'sandwiches' all use this interesting fruit and varieties can be found in cuisine from Japan, across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. Most Italian cooks have a large regional reppetoire of ways to prepare and preserve it, especially in the south.

Historically, it has enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac, thought to invoke insanity and is also a bit of a chameleon. It is available in many shapes, sizes and colours, ranging from white, yellow and all shades of purple. Flavours vary too but generally can taste quite bitter when raw. After cooking, it is delicious, (and not at all evil).
Since Barbara has given me the inspiration to think about eggplant, and I just happen to have a few rows of these 'insane apples' in the garden and it IS lunchtime, here is my interpretation of melanzana alla griglia. Not so much a recipe as you can easily make this to your personal taste or for as many servings as you require.

Melanzane alla griglia: Thinly slice 4-5 smallish (no bigger than the length of your hand) eggplants lengthwise into approximately 1/2 cm slices (or therabouts). You don't want the slices to be so thin that they char quickly on the grill but thin enough to soften and absorb all the flavour from the marinade and cook through in a reasonable amount of time. The long variety (as per Barbara's photos) are also fine to use, just make sure to choose young fruit.
Cover sliced eggplant with a good coating of salt and set aside in a colander. A weighted plate/press on top is optional.
Prepare marinade: mix your best olive oil (maybe 125mL), a splash of aceto (wine vinegar, white or red will do or a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice). I generally use whichever oil I have on hand and add a few drops of lemon juice over the final salad before mixing. Smash a peeled clove of garlic (or two) and drop into the dressing.  You can slice it if you don't mind the pungent bits popping up in your salad.  I love raw garlic, so I just give it a smash and a coarse chop.  Rub some dried oregano over the dressing and season (a good grind of black pepper and a light smattering of sea salt).  I also add some coarsely torn fresh herbs but remove them before grilling the eggplant to prevent burning.
Rinse eggplant of salt and dry on a teatowel with a little squeeze.  Add to marinade and toss well.  Marinating time need not be lengthy, eggplant absorb flavours quickly.
Grill eggplant either over coals (after the sauce fire has lowered to glowing embers is perfect), barbeque grill or in the broiler oven.  Some will swear by charcoal, which I adore, but the other methods do the job in a pinch (or if you live in a location where an open fire is frowned upon).  Take care to either slightly drain eggplant of marinade and remove chunky herbs thus preventing flare-ups and burnt bits.  On the barbeque, I like a medium to high heat for great marking while the oven method can vary (all depending, of course, on the proximity of the grilling rack to the flame or element).  Grill eggplant until browned and tender.  I replenish the remaining marinade with a liberal amount of good olive oil, a splash of wine vinegar, a few drops of lemon juice and some more fresh parsley and basil.  The amount of oil you can add depends on the amount you prefer, in a typical dressing this is about 2:1 oil to vinegar, but I tend to use more oil..  This is a great contorno alongside grilled meat or chicken or as an antipasto with crusty bread and a glass of wine.  The procedure works equally as well with grilled zucchini, capsicums, mushrooms or a mixture.  Serve warmish or at room temperature and, depending on your preference, allow some set time so the dressing can infuse to suit your taste. (The longer it sets, the more oil is absorbed by the eggplant).



Barbara said…
Mary this is wonderful. Thank you. I shall have to wait until I get back from OZ or try it when I'm in OZ.Maybe the eggplant will be cheaper in OZ.
Mary said…
You're most welcome Barbara. The price can be a bit of a fright as is finding good sized eggplant. Kind of leaves eggplant parmigiana as a very special occasion dish :(

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