It smacks somewhat of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, as it really is not a complicated thing to make and I’m perfectly sure you know all this anyway, but it IS reliably delicious, and veggie, and bloody satisfying to eat.
A sort of meat-and-pasta-free version of lasagne, probably rendered here in such a fashion as to make little old Italian ladies faint at its lack of authenticity.
- 2 medium-large aubergines
- 2 large onions
- 3 (or more!) cloves of garlic
- Loads of olive oil. LOADS.
- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes, or a chopping-board’s worth of fresh tomatoes, or some combination thereof
- Several severe squeezes of tomato puree
- Glass of red wine (optional)
- Teaspoon or so of sugar/glug of maple syrup
- Couple of teaspoons of vinegar – red wine or balsamic
- Salt and pepper
- Dried or fresh oregano and basil
- 1 pack of fresh mozzarella (but 2 is better)
- A knob of parmesan
- Couple of fresh basil leaves to make it look swanky
Heat the oven to about 180C. Place slices of aubergine up to about 1cm thick on baking trays, with a very generous glug of oil all over. The more oil, the better (and faster) they cook. Modern varieties of aubergine aren’t as bitter as they used to be, so all that business about salting-and-draining is less important, though it does help dry them out, also speeding up cooking. You might need to open the door a few times as they cook, to let the steam out.
While they go squidgy in the middle and crispy at the edges, make a rich tomato sauce. The longer and slower you do it, the nicer it is, though you can cheat by adding a pinch of sugar…in fact, do this anyway – while we’re chucking oil about willy-nilly, we might as well go all in. But it has to be really delicious, because it is the star of the Melanzane show, and must carry the aubergines (inclined to blandness) to an exultant finale of dining delight.
Chop the onions into smallish chunks, and sweat in olive oil until they go translucent, and even a little bit golden – you want them soft and sweet (I prefer to do this in a wide frying pan rather than a saucepan, as it works faster and somehow seems more glamorous, though you are likely to end up with a splattered hob). Add crushed or finely chopped garlic, and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Then add chopped tomatoes and load of tomato puree (especially if they are weedy, watery-tasting little suckers). If you have red wine to hand, glug some of that in for richness, and bubble away. Add some sugar (or maple syrup, if you prefer unrefined sugars) and a little splash of vinegar to taste, along with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fresh herbs are wonderful, but dried oregano and basil will do, so pop in some hearty sprinkles of them. The whole thing should be really rich, thick, fragrant and sexy. Anything watery or feeble should be beefed up with more of the above flavourings and cooked longer. If it gets too thick and lava-like, add more wine or water.
Check your aubergines. If they smell good, have collapsed into themselves, and generally seem cooked, golden, oily, and no longer springy (and sullen…they can be sullen little bastards), then take them out and let them get cool enough to handle.
Then you simply layer up the aubergine slices with the tomato sauce in a wide, deep-ish dish (more layers = more rigid structure = better), and then at the end, make him a delicious roof of sliced fresh mozzarella, finely grated parmesan, and a few fresh basil leaves.
Pop the dish back in the oven until the cheese forms an alluring crust of golden wantonness (15-20 mins), and then have fun trying to excavate a section and put it on a plate without it sliding apart or turning upside-down, thus ruining your credibility as a grown up Italian kitchen king. Serve with salad, polenta, crusty bread – whatever works. And wine, naturally.
Then dance about singing “That’s Amore!” and triumphing in the delights of your marital bliss and cuisine cunning.