Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.
In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.
With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting.
1 large globe eggplant (I used about 1.5 (half of one was no bueno))
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
balsamic or red wine vinegar (I used white balsamic)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro*
*I went with parsley, but I over did it a little, an effort, I believe, to brighten up the spread, which truth be told doesn’t look so appetizing without the fresh herbs. The spread tastes incredibly delicious without any herbs, so just be sure to finely chop the herbs, and use as much or as little as you like.
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Peel the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place the eggplant in a baking dish, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons water, cover tightly with foil, and bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft.
3. While the eggplant is baking, peel and dice the shallots very fine. Let them macerate for at least 10 minutes in about 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. (I let them macerate the whole time the eggplant was roasting.) Peel and mince the garlic and add it to the shallots and garlic. When the eggplant is done, remove the foil, add the shallot and garlic mixture to the pan (or transfer it all to a separate bowl) and mash it all together with a fork. Let it cool to room temperature.
4. Stir in the chopped parsley or cilantro (or a combination of both) and adjust seasoning. Add additional olive oil and vinegar to taste (I didn’t have to add either). Serve on grilled bread.