I have a few vegetables that are always on my “Maybe” list: beets, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant. I don’t hate any of them, but I also don’t love them either, and I really love many other vegetables. My years of vegetarianism have coaxed my taste buds away from absurd amounts of candy and toward the garden. Now I eat candy and vegetables!
I haven’t done anything with beets or Brussels sprouts in a long time, but eggplant leaped onto my radar again with Nigel Slater’s help. I bought his magnificent book Tender earlier this year, and I kid you not: he devotes 24 pages to what he calls “the big purple shlong we know so well.” It’s hard not to give eggplant another try when Nigel is waxing erotic about it.
I’ve got my eye on a few of his recipes, but the one I tried last night is one of the simplest. I think the simplicity highlights its brilliance. It’s a recipe for baked eggplant topped with a chunky tomato sauce and cheese—fairly standard stuff, really, but the eggplant is baked in lovely rounds that soften into tender steaks without disintegrating into mush. The tomato sauce is homemade: a few tomatoes chucked into a pan on the stove and cleverly seasoned with some chili along with the standard olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Nigel calls for a fresh red chili, but I didn’t have that on hand, so I used some dried red chili flakes. The heat from the chilis is subtle but noticeable in the final dish—it adds a sophisticated flavor that I think is quite welcome in what could otherwise be a very mild, even bland, dish. Finally, the cheese! The cheese is shredded and piled on top of the tomato-decorated eggplant steaks, then everything is baked until the cheese is bubbly and caramelized. As Matt said to me in a recent e-mail, “Fried cheese is always a good call!” Anytime cheese gets a little brown and crispy, I get excited for dinner, and that’s exactly what happens in this recipe.
Winner, winner, eggplant dinner: I think I’ve finally found an eggplant recipe that will make its way into steady rotation in my kitchen. Exciting!
Eggplant Steaks with Tomatoes and Cheese
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater
1 medium eggplant
About 2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
4 medium tomatoes, about 1 pound total
1/4 tsp. dried red chili flakes
1 clove garlic
About 1/2 cup shredded cheese, such as Cheddar
1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slice the eggplant into thick rounds, or “steaks,” as I like to call thickly sliced slabs of vegetable. Place them on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil (I use a pastry brush for this), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
2) While the eggplant is baking, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and slice the garlic, then add them to the pan along with the chili flakes and some salt and pepper (don’t be stingy!). Allow the tomatoes to bubble and cook down into chunky sauce, about 20 minutes.
3) Remove the eggplant from the oven. Top each steak with a generous spoonful of the tomato sauce*, sprinkle some cheese on top, and bake for another 15 minutes. Serve warm from the oven.
* You might have some tomato sauce left over here, but it’s delicious and who can’t use some good tomato sauce in her fridge?