The latest recipe I have used from Mastering the art of French cooking (Mastering) is ‘Aubergines farcies duxelles’ (Eggplants stuffed with mushrooms). The eggplant I used was originally destined to be chargrilled on our Weber Q, as we have done a couple of times this summer. However, Melbourne’s famous weather headed south, so I needed a plan B.
I opened Mastering, knowing there would be a recipe for ratatouille but hoping there would also be something unfamiliar and tempting. There was only one alternative but the recipe involved mushrooms and cream cheese, two ingredients I had not associated with eggplant. So, a definite tick for the unfamiliar box and, with the mushrooms, a tentative tick in the tempting box.
The mushrooms were finely chopped – ‘minced’ according to Mastering – and sautéed, then combined in a mixing bowl with the cream cheese, sautéed minced onion, chopped parsley, thyme leaves, seasoning and some of the flesh of the eggplant. The flavour of the mixture was very appealing. The stuffing was sprinkled with a topping of homemade breadcrumbs and grated gruyere-style cheese, before being baked in a moderate oven.
We were very happy with the texture and flavours of the dish but we would add an egg yolk to the stuffing next time to produce a firmer finish.
The recipe introduced me to at least two techniques, which is one of the main reasons why I am disciplining myself to search Mastering for recipes that are both novel and appealing. There are plenty those!
The first new technique prepared the flesh of the eggplant to be incorporated in the stuffing mixture. I used a knife to cut into the surface of the two halves, lengthwise and crosswise, at 2cm intervals and to about half a cm from the edges and skins, before sprinkling the surface with salt. Half an hour later, after brushing away the salt etc, the flesh was brushed with olive oil and the halves were grilled gently for about 15 minutes. After this, it was easy to scoop the flesh out, leaving the shells neat and intact for filling.
The other technique involved the mushrooms. After I had ‘minced’ them, I rolled them up in a tea-towel and squeezed and twisted the towel to extract as much liquid as possible. So, when I sautéed the pieces of mushroom, they cooked much drier than usual. Which was a good thing!
As it happens, I’m not a big fan of ratatouille; I prefer its Italian counterpart, caponata. I have also enjoyed preparing and eating my version of imam bayildi, an elegant Turkish dish of stuffed eggplant. More on the latter another time.