WELL SEASONED MARCH 2022

By Cuisine17 Minutes
March 14, 2022By Cuisine

Eggplant, granita and luscious honey ideas, and new-look Caprese salads by David Neville.

THERE’S LOT OF… EGGPLANT

Eggplant is kind of the poster child of body positivity. They can be curvaceous, slender or itty bitty; ebony, brindled green, purple or ashen white. When cooked, their texture can range from meaty to silken. To top this all off, they’re also a berry. Most noticeable is the ability of their raw, spongy texture to absorb and amalgamate flavour.

GIVE THESE A GO…

Eggplant & hibiscus dip
Heat oven to 180°C. Cut 4 large eggplants in half lengthwise. Using a small knife, score in a criss-cross pattern almost all the way to the skin. Sprinkle each half with ½ teaspoon salt and a 1 teaspoon sugar. Lay skin-side up on a baking tray and splash with 4-5 tablespoons water. Bake for 25 minutes until collapsed. Cool, then scrape out the flesh with a spoon and blend with ¼ cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika and a tablespoon ground hibiscus until pale red. Season to taste.

Eggplant roasted with chermoula
To make the chermoula, put ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ cup each chopped coriander and flat-leafed parsley in a blender. Add a teaspoon each ground cumin, ground coriander seeds, dried chilli flakes, thyme leaves, minced ginger and garlic. Blend on high speed until it resembles a wet pesto. Cut 4 large eggplants in half lengthwise and season the cut side with a generous pinch salt. Toss eggplant in half the chermoula and wrap each half in foil. Roast for 25 minutes at 180°C. Remove from foil and dress with remaining chermoula. Serve immediately.

Pickled eggplant with freekeh
Peel 6 large eggplants and cut into 1cm x 1cm batons. Season with 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, put in a large bowl with a weighted plate on top and place in the fridge overnight. Cook 1 cup freekeh according to instructions, allow to cool and store overnight. The following day, squeeze as much water as possible from the eggplant. Place 1 litre water and 700ml white wine vinegar into a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the eggplant and simmer for 8 minutes. Remove from liquid to cool and squeeze dry. Toss with freekeh and pack into sterilised jars. Add one sliced garlic clove to each jar. Pour in grapeseed oil until covered by 1cm and seal. Store in the fridge for up to a month.

Eggplant with miso & Marmite
Slice 8 thin Japanese eggplants in half lengthwise. Season each eggplant with a pinch of salt. Heat a large, heavy frying pan with enough oil to cover the base. Place eggplant skin-side down and cook for 2-3 minutes until blistering. Flip and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until beginning to soften and remove from heat. In a bowl whisk together ¼ cup white miso, 3 tablespoons mirin, 1½ tablespoons caster sugar, 2 tablespoons Marmite and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. Lay eggplant skin-side down on a lined baking tray. Spoon over the miso mix and put under a hot grill until deep golden brown, approx. 4-5 minutes.

REINVENTING THE MEAL / CAPRESE SALAD

Caprese is a classic salad of just tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oil. Simple dishes like this leave you nowhere to hide; the outcome will be completely dictated by the quality of your ingredients. Rather than adding more, use that saved preparation time to hunt out a better product. Take the very best and do the very least with it.

GIVE THESE A GO…

Cherry tomato, strawberry, bocconcini & shiso
Slice 40 cherry tomatoes in half and put into a bowl. Add 10 quartered strawberries, a teaspoon of flaky sea salt and a generous 10-12 cracks of black pepper. Leave to stand for 3-4 minutes. Add 10 bocconcini balls sliced in half and 4 large shiso leaves, finely sliced. Add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, ½ tablespoon red wine vinegar and a teaspoon caster sugar. Stir to combine. Divide evenly between four bowls. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over each bowl just before serving. Ideal with bruschetta on the side.

Golden queen peach, mozzarella, watercress & citrus olive oil
Carefully remove the stones from 5 golden queen peaches. Slice peach halves into ½cm slices. Slice 300g of mozzarella balls into ½cm slices. Arrange the slices overlapping onto 4 plates. Sprinkle a generous pinch of flaky sea salt over each plate and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes. Pick 8-10 leaves of watercress and layer over the peaches and cheese. Drizzle with a generous tablespoon of citrus extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

Greengage plum, fennel, tarragon & soft blue cheese
Cut 8 greengage plums in half and remove the stones. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Finely slice 2 fennel bulbs as thinly as possible. Evenly divide the plum wedges between 4 plates. Put 5 teaspoons soft blue cheese among the plums on each plate and evenly layer the sliced fennel on top of the plums. Sprinkle fennel with a generous pinch of flaky salt. Feather 6-7 tarragon leaves across the salad and drizzle each salad with a tablespoon of peppery frantoio- style olive oil. Greengage plums have a very short season and omega plums can be used if you can’t find greengages.

Rockmelon, prosciutto & ricotta with fermented garlic honey
Quarter a rockmelon, remove the seeds and skin and slice 2mm thick. Carefully separate 8 thin slices of prosciutto. Put 1½ tablespoons of room-temperature ricotta in the centre of each plate and use a wet spoon to flatten and spread into an approximate 12cm circle. Drape and interleave the thin slices of the rockmelon and prosciutto on top of the ricotta. Drizzle each plate with a tablespoon of the fermented garlic honey (see recipe section CELEBRATING THE STAPLES / HONEY below) and spoon over a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Finish with 2-3 cracks of the pepper mill and 8-10 leaves flat-leafed parsley.

MAKE IT YOURSELF / GRANITA

Granita is a sublimely simple dish to make, which really only requires one key ingredient – hot and balmy weather. If shaved ice is for children, then granita is the more mature, adult version. In its native region of Sicily, granita is often eaten as a late breakfast to alleviate the body when things are getting a little too hot. Unlike sorbet, granita has far less sugar making it more refreshing.

GIVE THESE A GO…

Pineapple & basil granita
Peel a whole pineapple and dice into 2cm chunks, discarding any fibrous core. Place into a blender and blitz to a smooth purée. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt and 10 large torn basil leaves and continue to blitz until the basil is flecked through. Pour into a shallow 20cm x 30cm tray and freeze until completely frozen. Use a strong fork to scrape the surface back and forth to create a fine snow-like texture.

Coffee & black pepper granita
Brew 500ml strong coffee and pour into a bowl. Add 50g sugar and stir to dissolve. Coarsely grind in 15-20 black peppercorns, add 100ml full-cream milk and stir. Pour into a shallow 20cm x 30cm tray. Place in the freezer and stir in any ice crystals from the edges every 60-90 minutes until completely frozen – this granita is classically served very chunky so you don’t scrape it into flakes. Serve with grated dark chocolate.

Tomato & bitters granita
Put 500ml tomato juice into a medium pot. Dice 2 celery stalks into 1cm pieces and add to the pot with 1 teaspoon flaky salt. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Add 10-12 dashes of your favourite bitters and stir through. Strain into a 20cm x 30cm freezer-proof container and place into the freezer. After one hour, stir ice crystals from the edges through the granita and leave to freeze completely. Using a strong fork, scrape the granita back and forth to form semi-fine snow.

Grapefruit & chilli granita
Put 500ml ruby grapefruit juice into a small pot and heat gently. Add 1-3 tablespoons sugar to taste and allow to dissolve and cool. Pour into a 20cm x 30cm freezer-proof tray and put into the freezer undisturbed to freeze solid. Once solid, remove from freezer and brush on 2 teaspoons sambal chilli paste for mild heat or 1½ tablespoons for fiery heat. Return to freezer for 1 hour. Remove from freezer and stand for 10 minutes to semi defrost. Using a serrated steak knife scrape along the surface to form coarse chunks, about the size of the head of a match. This will allow the fruit and chilli to remain slightly separated on the palate, giving an even mix of fruity and spicy.

CELEBRATING THE STAPLES / HONEY

I love honey. It is the product of an efficient and selfless community, it has long been recognised as the original sweetener and its holistic benefits are numerous. When purchasing, aim to find a raw and unpasteurised version that will display its floral components better. Honey is what cooperation and success taste like.

GIVE THESE A GO…

Honey & parmesan focaccia bread
Put 400ml cold water in a stand mixer with 1 teaspoon dry active yeast. Turn on the mixer for 1-2 minutes to dissolve. Add 500g strong bread flour and 1½ tablespoons mānuka honey and mix on low speed for 10 minutes. Add 10g salt and increase speed to high and continue kneading for 10 minutes. Stop the mixer, add ½ cup finely grated parmesan and 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix for 2-3 minutes. Put in a container twice the size of the dough, cover and place in the fridge for 1½days. Remove from fridge and place dough onto a 30cm x 40cm oiled baking tray. Cover and allow to prove at room temperature for 3 hours or until doubled in size. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and press your fingertips into the dough to form dimples. Bake at your oven’s hottest setting for about 15-20 minutes until blistered and golden.

Fermented garlic honey
Put 400ml honey and 100ml filtered water into a medium pot and warm to blood temperature. Place 300g unpeeled garlic cloves into a clean 1-litre jar with a screw-top lid. Pour honey over the garlic cloves and gently stir. Twist on the screw cap finger tight and put somewhere dark at room temperature for 3 days. Unscrew the lid, listen for a quiet hissing sound, and look to see small bubbles forming on the surface. Screw the lid back on and turn the jar upside down. Burp the jar again. Repeat for 5 days until noticeable small bubbles rise to the top when the lid is removed. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months. The fermented honey is ideal with breads and for dressings and the garlic is divine in roasted dishes. See the recipe for rockmelon, prosciutto & ricotta with fermented garlic honey on REINVENTING THE MEAL / CAPRESE SALAD section above.

Honey & thyme honeycomb brittle
Put 11⁄2 cups caster sugar, 1⁄4 cup liquid honey and 1⁄4 cup water into a medium- sized heavy-based pot. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer, then stop stirring and cook to 150°C on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and wait for all bubbles to disappear from the surface. Add 1⁄2 tablespoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves and a small pinch of salt. Return to the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until quadrupled in size. Pour into a lightly oiled or non-stick tray and allow to cool to room temperature. Break into chunks and store in an airtight container.

Honey, rose, gin & bitters cocktail
Makes enough syrup for 6-8 cocktails

Place ¼ cup water and ½ teaspoon rosewater into a small pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, add ¼ cup honey and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool and store in the fridge until ready to use. Put two tablespoons of syrup, 4 dashes of your favourite bitters and two 30ml measures of gin per person into a shaker glass and top with ice. Stir well and strain into cocktail glasses. Add a teaspoon more syrup to taste for sweeter drinks.