Some of you may have noticed that I'm not a leftie, veggie kind of person. What I mean by that is that I am very much a meat-and-two-veg kind of bloke. I was brought up with the belief that a meal isn't a meal without meat. Round our way you were seen as a bit of a nancy-boy if you ate a salad.
Of course, it's a whole new world now, and even old dogs can learn new tricks. So this week's recipe is something you might expect to find on the menu at one of those healthy eating places I used to walk past in my youth when I was training at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons outside Oxford. You know the type of establishment, where you would find real men eating quiche while wearing sandals and socks.
If there is a vegetable that can sometimes be a substitute for meat, then the aubergine is it. It is almost meaty in texture, and very filling. It is not a particularly popular vegetable for us Brits to cook with; most of the time it turns out rubbery and slightly bitter, so we are scared of it. So that is why you go through the first phase of this recipe, which is using salt to drain out the bitter juices. Be sure to rinse them properly afterwards, though, or you will end up with a very salty dish.
My other trick to cooking aubergines is to slice them thinly. This will eliminate the risk of feeling like you're eating rubber. I love the creamy, cheesy filling in this recipe; the combination of Parmesan and ricotta is sublime. And making the rolls is actually easier than you think. I thought I may have to put toothpicks through them to hold them together but in the end the little blighters stayed together just fine.
I used passata for the sauce, and you can embellish it with basil if you want to, or even some oregano. These are all very Italian flavours, that are clearly MFEO (did you not read Katie Trotter the other week? Made For Each Other).
A bit like me and sandals with socks, such a fetching look. OK, only joking, but I do eat quiche. In an emergency.
1.2kg aubergine (around 3 or 4)
200g rock salt
500g white flour
1l corn oil
1.5kg ricotta cheese
100ml egg yolks (around 5 or 6)
200g Parmesan cheese, shredded
12 sun-dried tomatoes
800ml tomato sauce
80g arugula (rocket) leaves (20-25 pcs)
Butter (for greasing wax paper)
100g Parmesan shavings
1. Slice the aubergine 2mm thick lengthways, place over a grill and sprinkle with rock salt.
2. Leave for 45 minutes to allow the excess water to leak from the aubergine.
3. Rinse under running water and damp with kitchen paper towel until dry.
4. Dust with white flour and shallow fry in corn oil on medium heat each slice of aubergine until golden brown. Reserve.
5. In a large bowl mix ricotta, egg yolks, shredded Parmesan, salt and pepper.
6. Place the aubergine slices on a table covered with cling film, and put the ricotta mix in a piping bag.
7. Pipe the mix over each slice, topping each with the sun-dried tomatoes and 3-4 leaves of rocket.
8. Roll the aubergine around the ricotta and place on an oven tray covered with buttered wax paper.
9. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the rolls for 10 minutes.
10. Heat tomato sauce.
11. Spoon some tomato sauce onto each of 8 plates, place an aubergine roll on each and finish with Parmesan shavings.