Eggplant & Zucchini Tian

by Maja Lukic


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I took a cooking class on Provençal cooking recently. In addition to coming home with delicious eats (my freezer is still packed) and becoming once again obsessed with all things French (south of France in summer 2014, people), I picked up beautiful ideas on how to use my little kitchen herb garden. On my kitchen windowsill, I currently have lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, and basil - the perfect array for southeastern French cuisine.

Provençal cooking combines classic French methods with Mediterranean elements such as garlic, basil, olives, lavender, and honey. Herbes de Provence are typically used to flavor dishes. The classic combination consists of thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, savory, and marjoram. Occasionally, variations may include fennel seeds or lavender. I use fennel seeds and fresh thyme here but if you do not have either of those on hand, you can substitute any of the other herbs or even a dried Herbes de Provence mix. I have done that in the past and it works beautifully.

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This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe we learned in class. It's a classic tian, which is basically just a layered vegetable dish. Our teacher referred to it as a "crustless tart" but, really, we're layering vegetables and herbs (with an optional cheese layer).

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Unfortunately, it's not a particularly trendy dish at this point. In fact, it feels kind of retro and decidedly kitsch. I would imagine that tians were all the rage at dinner parties in the 1980s in the US. (Can someone fact check that?).

But it looks pretty and it's a very cozy thing to have for dinner. There has been some downright autumnal weather in NYC as of late. Turning on the oven to prepare a simple tian feels right.

There are infinite variations on the basic formula. Just do a Google search and you will see hundreds of very different recipes. I use a trio of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, which makes sense for the season. It's a great way to use up end-of-summer zucchini and eggplant, especially if you belong to a CSA and are assailed with these items every week. And beautiful fresh tomatoes, which are finally in season, are everywhere. I will totally experiment with heirlooms or thinly sliced onions or very thinly sliced (like with a mandoline) potatoes or sweet potatoes in the future.

For the prettiest and neatest appearance, look for slim eggplants and small to medium tomatoes so that all of your vegetable slices look roughly equal.

I'm about to impart some kitchen wisdom on that eggplant. This was new to me but according to Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy, eggplants are tropical plants and do not like to be cold. In fact, most refrigerators are far too cold for the eggplant. But if you leave it out on the counter, it will start to lose its moisture. The best way to store an eggplant, if you can't use it right away, is to wrap it up well before refrigerating.

But you really should use it  as soon as you bring it home because age and cold storage produce that bitterness that most people associate with these plants. If your eggplant is not very fresh and you're concerned about bitter elements, you can salt the slices to draw out the bitter juices. See below for instructions. I find that I never need to do that here, for some reason, but I also use my eggplant right away when I bring it home from farmers market. Do what works for you.

The other great thing about a tian is that it is very forgiving and the recipe is easily adjusted based on the size of the dish, the number of servings, and the vegetable supply. It can be an entrée or a side. I tend to think that most dishes I make would pair well with fresh seafood but this really would. Of course, you can also serve it with chicken or lamb or something more substantial. I confess to just eating it as is with some soft-boiled eggs or a dollop of ajvar. It's a great light summer dish.

Eggplant & Zucchini Tian (v/gf)

Serves 2

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic

3-4 medium sized organic tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 zucchini, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1-2 eggplants, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 tsp freshly chopped thyme

1 tsp fennel seeds

1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

sea salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan (completely optional)

If you need to salt the eggplant, toss the slices with a little salt and then let it sit for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours to draw out any bitter juices. Liquid will bead on the surface, which you can just wipe off with a paper towel.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rub the bottom of a shallow oval or round baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Scatter the garlic over the bottom of the dish.

Arrange the vegetables slices in concentric circles, starting with the outer circle, alternating each ring with each vegetable to create rings of contrasting colors. Sprinkle each layer with a little bit of the remaining olive oil, thyme, fennel seed, salt, and pepper. When you reach the top of the dish, season the top layer with the oil, herbs, salt, and pepper, and additionally, sprinkle the dish with some lemon juice and 1/4 cup water.

Bake uncovered, tilting the dish occasionally to baste the top with the accumulated juices, until everything is tender and lightly browned. Depending on how large your tian is, this should take approximately 45 minutes. I made a smaller version for the photos, which was done in about 30 minutes.

If you're using the cheese (I don't really find it necessary), take the tian out near the end of the baking time, sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and then bake until lightly browned, for about 2 to 3 minutes. I prefer to just sprinkle the finished dish with more fresh thyme and fresh parsley.

As with most layered dishes, let it cool slightly before slicing and serving. Will keep in the fridge overnight and can be served cold (in my opinion, at least). 

 

Oh, and a song for your cooking session? This track: Appaloosa - Fill the Blanks


Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant w/Tahini & Pomegranate

by Maja Lukic in


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Today, I am sharing one of my absolute favorite recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. Plenty, if you haven't read it yet, is a completely inspiring, gorgeous cookbook that features some of Ottolenghi's best vegetarian recipes. I can't rave about it enough. In my very humble opinion, Ottolenghi sets the standard for what vegetarian/vegan cooking should be: seasonal, inventive, beautiful, and delicious.

The recipe combines roasted eggplant flesh with a delicious mix of tahini, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, and pomegranate molasses. The end result is an addictive, creamy, smoky, tart, sweet, salty, and aromatic spread. It can stand on its own as a dip or condiment (far superior to any hummus I've ever had) or as a side to meat or fish. Or, as Ottolenghi suggests (and I highly recommend), it can be served as a refreshing Middle Eastern inspired salad with some chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

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The only downside to this recipe is that it requires the use of a broiler in the middle of summer. (If you have a grill, you can certainly char the eggplant that way. I live in a studio in New York so that was not really an option.). Fortunately, the weather has been entirely unpredictable as of late. I took advantage of a chilly night in late July to char some eggplants under the broiler.

The salad hits you with a refreshing sweet/sour double dose of pomegranate. First, through the use of pomegranate molasses in the eggplant spread itself. (If you are unfamiliar with pomegranate molasses, as I was, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. Obsessed.). To finish, it's topped off with arils (or seeds) from a fresh pomegranate.

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I know what you're thinking. The pomegranate seems like one of those foods where the end result doesn't really justify the effort required to extract the edible portions (I'm putting grapefruit in this category, too). But it works so beautifully here that it would be a shame to leave it out. Removing the seeds can actually be pretty simple and, in fact, there are at least two easy methods for doing so.

The first is my own, gentler method. Fill a large bowl with water. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Then dunk each half of the pomegranate into the water, cut side facing down, and use your fingers to separate the arils from the membrane. Discard the hard red pomegranate skin. The arils will sink to the bottom while the loose bits of white membrane will float to the surface. Use your hands or a small strainer to skim the white membrane bits from the surface of the water and discard them. You should be left with a bowl full of clean little red jewels. Strain the remaining water and arils and if there are bits of white pith membrane left on any of the seeds, gently remove them. I like this method because it's quick, clean, and will not bruise or damage the pomegranate seeds.

The second is Ottolenghi's more aggressive approach. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or rolling pin to knock the pomegranate skin. Continue beating until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all of the seeds are out, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

You choose.

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I ended up making a double batch of this. I advise you to do the same.

Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant w/Pomegranate and Tahini (v/gf)

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4 as an appetizer/salad

1 large eggplant

1/3 cup organic tahini paste

1/4 cup water

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 tbsp chopped parsley

sea salt and black pepper

seeds from 1 pomegranate

Optional: a handful of mini cucumbers, sliced in half moons (peeled if not organic), 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes, halved, olive oil to finish

First, you will need to roast or char the eggplant. You have some options here. To cook the eggplant on a gas stovetop, line the area around the burner with foil to protect it. Put the eggplant directly on a moderate flame and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Ottolenghi suggests you keep an eye on it the whole time so it doesn't catch fire. I concur.

Alternatively, if you have an electric stove, you can broil them. First, pierce the eggplant skin all over with a sharp knife (if you skip this step, you will have exploding eggplants - I am just saying). Then, place the eggplant in a foil-lined tray directly under a hot broiler for 1 full hour, turning it every 15 minutes or so. It will be done when it is completely deflated and the skin is broken and burnt.

When it's cool enough to handle, cut the eggplant open and scoop out the flesh and drain (the eggplant will release a lot of water as it cools). Ottolenghi suggests letting it drain for at least 30 minutes but there's no reason to time it so precisely. Basically, just make sure it's fairly dry before you proceed.

Then chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add tahini, lemon juice, water, pomegranate molasses, garlic, parsley, and some salt and pepper. Mix well with a whisk. Alternatively, you can take the easier route (like me) and pulse everything together in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice or molasses, as needed. The salad should be a delightful balance of sweet and sour flavors.

At this point, you can serve as is, topped with pomegranate seeds. Or you can go further (you should go further) and add sliced cucumbers and tomatoes to the eggplant mix. Then, top everything with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with olive oil. Devour. 

And your song to cook to? This awesome track by Sam Smith that I cannot get out of my head.