As I’ve had a bit more time on my hands this year I’ve been spending it doing the things I enjoy, one of which is burning aubergines. Rather than being some kind of sado-massochistic lachanophobic (fear of vegetables) passtime, it’s an activity that actually enhances this abundant fruit of summer. Not too long ago I shared my recipe for baba ghanoush, a dish whose success is dependent on your ability to carry out the utter incineration of an aubergine. If you think that ‘just a bit crispy’ is fine, you’re wrong, it needs to be burned beyond help, way past the point that you think it’s still edible.
It seems that aubergines do something quite special when they get burned. Rather than curl up, or cry and run their finger under a cold tap, they embrace the heat, lounging like a latino lothario, they just lay back and soak it up. There’s no hint of becoming bitter, harsh or unbearably tough, just a sweetened, softened, happily yielding vegetable which proudly wears it’s stripy chargrilled badge of honour. One of the most simple ways to cook aubergine is to simply griddle it in slices. Served alone, these slices taste amazing and make a lovely side dish curled and piled together then sprinkled with some herbs.
Aubergine is a staple ingredient in this household during the summer, it seems to feature on the shopping list almost weekly and home made baba ghanoush is rarely more than a week or two away, normally a brimming bowlful made from six aubergines. I’m always looking for new ways to use them and I’ve also got a thing for eating with my hands and making a mess, which is where the inspiration for this recipe came from, by looking at a pile of griddled aubergine and a bowl of olives. The mighty aubergine takes centre stage again today, performing it’s key role of being a soft and sweet carrier for other ingredients, because it loves working with other flavours and pairs beautifully with so many spritely summer flavours.
The combinations on these chargrilled aubergine bites are all classic collaborations of flavours that are sure fire hits. But there’s no reason not to put your own twist on things, depending on what you have laying around, such as different cheeses, meats, vegetables and herbs. Also, an alternative way to present this would be as a hands-on sharing dish, with a stack of griddled aubergine in the middle, surrounded by piles of olives, sun dried tomatoes, goat’s cheese, basil and anchovies, then let people create their own recipe. Or you can simply enjoy these as we did the plate in the photo, as an impromptu starter, of course, sans cutlery.
Chargrilled aubergine bites
By Gavin Wren
Uses a griddle pan
1 aubergine (choose a fat one)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 kalamata olives
A small bunch of basil (8 leaves)
4 anchovy fillets
8 sun dried tomatoes
1 small goat’s cheese log (you need 4 slices)
Slice the aubergine lengthways into thin strips. You need to try and get 12 slices.
Mix the olive oil and garlic in a small bowl or ramekin, then lightly brush both sides of the aubergine slices with the oil. Cook the slices, in batches, on the griddle until well charred on each side. Once a slice is cooked, transfer it to a cling film covered bowl.
If your olives aren’t already pitted, crush them with the flat side of a knife, or the bottom of a jar, then remove the pit from each olive.
Once all the aubergines are cooked and the other ingredients are ready, you can assemble the rolls as follows:
Anchovy and olive roll, take an aubergine slice, give it a little brush of garlic oil, roll it up, then top it with a basil leave, followed by an anchovy fillet, with an olive on top.
Goat’s cheese and sun dried tomato roll, take an aubergine slice, give it a little brush of garlic oil, place a sun dried tomato at one end and roll it up. Top with a slice of cheese and a basil leaf.
Sun dried tomato and olive roll, take an aubergine slice, give it a little brush of garlic oil, roll it up, then top with a sun dried tomato and an olive.
Arrange the finished rolls on a plate and serve.