The only thing I can remember cooking for the last several years that turned out so badly that not only did I refuse to eat it, but even Dave did, is grilled eggplant. I don’t remember what went wrong – cook time too long? cook temp too low? too high? salt, don’t salt, cut thicker cut thinner, I don’t know – but the resulting mush of eggplant goo is all too vivid still.
I hadn’t eaten eggplant since. I’ve seen recipes in which every other component sounded like something I would enjoy, but as soon as I spotted that nefarious eggplant in the ingredient list, I scrolled right on past. I knew I’d have to try eggplant again someday. But I wasn’t ready then.
Now I am. Cheese and tomato sauce is never a bad way to ease into an ingredient. Each grilled slice of eggplant is rolled with a slice of cheese, then topped with a quick marinara sauce and heated until the flavors meld and the cheese softens. For me, they were too messy to serve as a hand-held hors d’œuvre, but instead made for a very nice plated first course. That’s right, a recipe with eggplant was very nice. I’m one step closer toward liking eggplant again.
I just stick a pair of kitchen shears into the can of tomatoes and chop away a bit. It’s coarser than a puree, but still just fine for sauce. If you want it smoother, puree the tomatoes in the food processor.
We grilled the eggplant; I haven’t personally tried the roasting technique recommended in the original Gourmet recipe.
4 small Italian eggplants or 2 regular eggplants
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, chopped, undrained
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
16 thin slices provolone cheese
½ ounce (¼ cup) finely grated parmesan cheese
1. Peel 2 opposite long sides of each eggplant. Cut each eggplant lengthwise (to form long skinny ovals) into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with kosher salt; set aside for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted; add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 8-12 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the basil.
3. Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over moderate heat (or line a large baking sheet with foil and heat the oven to 450 degrees). Brush any remaining salt crystals from the eggplant; pat the slices dry and spray both sides with nonstick spray. Grill the eggplant, turning once, until tender, about 4 minutes total (or bake for 20 minutes, turning once). Transfer to a work surface.
4. Top each slice of eggplant with a slice of cheese; starting at a short end, roll the eggplant and cheese into a spiral and seal with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and cheese. Arrange the eggplant spirals in a shallow baking pan and top with the sauce; bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.