This week, we’ve got a recipe from Rory O’Connell‘s The Joy of Food, which is a must-have for every food lover’s home…[restrict]
Roast Slim Jim Aubergines with Dates, Pine Nuts, Sorrel and Mint
This is a light and refreshing dish, perfect as a starter before a more robust main course. Slim Jim, a variety of aubergine that I love, is long and slender, but the larger, more conventionally shaped ones will work perfectly here.
I think some cooks struggle a little when cooking aubergines for the first time, as they are not a vegetable that is part of our food culture, hence they take a little longer to understand. They are a fantastic sponge for all sorts of flavours and the vegetable itself comes in many different guises. Known in other parts of the world as eggplant, this odd-sounding name makes perfect sense when you see one of the varieties that is indeed ovoid or egg shaped and white in colour. They range in size from the thumbnail-sized pea aubergine to the large, shiny, teardrop-shaped ones we are more used to. I have seen up to two dozen varieties laid out side by side on pavement markets in South East Asia and that certainly gave me a good indication as to the range of the different members of this remarkable plant. Some solidly coloured, some streaked and some with vicious little thorns near the stalk, I suppose to ward off predators, a selection of them viewed at once is a lovely sight. The flower of the plant is unexpected and beautiful, with purple petals and a golden centre. All in all, there is much to recommend about the aubergine and it is well worth any moments of doubt associated with the initial experience of cooking it.
Sorrel is a favourite herb of mine, with its astringent and lemony flavour, and I wonder why it is not more widely grown. In my experience, it grows easily and returns each year and spreads a little also. I generally use the domesticated large broad leaf sorrel, which has long, slender, arrow-shaped leaves. It is worth noting that sorrel grows wild and in profusion and I forage for it also. I know it as sheep’s sorrel and I find it all along the costal cliff walk near where I live. I have also seen it flourishing inland in lush clumps. This plant is classed as a weed, but to me it is a delight. It is widely used in classic French cooking and many cooks will know the famous sorrel sauce served with salmon created by the Troisgros brothers at their restaurant in Roanne in France. I learned how to cook that dish many years ago as a young chef training with the Ryan brothers, Declan and Michael, at the marvellous Arbutus Lodge in Cork City. It became one of the seminal dishes of the sometimes misunderstood nouvelle cuisine movement in France in the 1960s and 70s, a movement that sought to create a lighter, more delicate cuisine than that associated with classic French cooking.
The other variety of sorrel that many have become familiar with in the last few years is wood sorrel or oxalis. It is very distinctive in appearance, with pretty light green trefoil-shaped leaves. It, too, has the distinctive lemony flavour of other members of the family and was brought into general consciousness as an edible weed by the Nordic food movement, which adopted it with gusto. It is sometimes confused with shamrock because of its slight similarity in appearance to the national Irish flower.
I suppose I would class this dish as modern cooking, but in any event it is a lovely way of showcasing both aubergine and sorrel.
— 2 Slim Jim aubergines or 1 large aubergine
— 1 tablespoon pine nuts
— 2 teaspoons honey
— Squeeze of lemon juice
— 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
— 4–8 fresh mint leaves
— 2 fat Medjool dates, stones removed
— Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
— 1 large Medjool date, stone removed and finely chopped
— 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
— 2 tablespoons chopped sorrel leaves or a little more lemon juice
— 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
— 1/8 teaspoon honey
Place a wire cooling rack over a medium-low flame. Sit the aubergines on top and roast until the skin is completely charred and blistered and the flesh is utterly tender. If you squeeze the aubergines there should not be the slightest resistance. You will need to move the aubergines and the wire rack to and fro as you go to ensure an even roasting of the vegetables. This process takes between 20 and 30 minutes. Remove the aubergines from the rack and allow to cool. If you don’t have a gas flame in your kitchen, you can roast the aubergines under an oven grill element or in a very hot oven.
Gently mix all the dressing ingredients, then taste and correct the seasoning.
Roast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat until well coloured. The tips of some of the pine nuts can be a dark brown colour. You will need to shake the pan occasionally to ensure a reasonably even colour. Remove from the pan and crush coarsely with a fork. Season with a small pinch of salt.
Halve the cooled aubergines lengthways to achieve four halves in total. If you are using a large aubergine, cut it lengthways into 4 quarters. Place each one on a serving plate and drizzle with a little honey, a few drops of lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Tear or chop the mint and scatter it over the aubergines along with the crushed pine nuts.
Place half of a date alongside each aubergine and drizzle over the date dressing. Serve immediately.
The Joy of Food by Rory O’Connell is out now.[/restrict]