A raw aubergine, though handsome and exotic, is about as inedible and unappetising a vegetable as you could sink your teeth into. Even at that, it’s a bit fussy about how it’s cooked. I’ve never eaten boiled aubergine and it doesn’t appeal to me, and because it absorbs so much oil when fried, grilled or roasted it is important to use a good olive oil, as that will be an essential part of the cooked flavour. Any of these cooking methods will turn an aubergine into one of the most flavoursome, adaptable and useful vegetables.
Very often the first thing I do to start an aubergine dish is to slice it and then grill the slices. The result is one of the most useful things in a vegetarian cook’s armoury. It isn’t only for the rich, intense, roasted flavour that I cook aubergine this way, but also because it is so easy to control the degree of cooking, the texture, shape and size of the aubergine slices. Strictly speaking, the way we do it is more roasted than grilled. A good fan oven with even, dry heat is perfect, otherwise use a grill. The method is simply this: cut the aubergine into slices of the size, thickness and shape you want, brush the slices on both sides with a good olive oil, place them on an oven tray and roast them at 350-400°F (Gas Mark 4-6) for about ten minutes, until the aubergine is cooked through. Remember that aubergine shrinks a bit when cooked and do please cook it soft; undercooked aubergine is disgusting. A perfectly grilled or roasted aubergine slice is lightly browned on the outside but yields meltingly on the inside. The time and temperature depend to an extent on the thickness of the slices. I think thicker slices cook better if given a little more time at a slightly lower temperature. For grilling, place the oiled slices under a hot grill until browned and cooked, turning them once. Chargrilling, though very fashionable spasmodically, is for addicts only - the char or smoky flavour almost always outweighs that of the vegetable and usually the process leaves the vegetable revoltingly raw inside or completely burned.
Once you’ve got into the habit of cooking aubergines this way, there are millions of uses for it. For pasta dishes, do thinnish round slices, then halve them and add them to the pasta sauce. Lengthways slices can be rolled around a stuffing, layered into a bake or a sandwich like the recipe for aubergine gamelastra. In fact there are loads of recipes scattered through the book which are based on grilled aubergines.
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