‘This remarkable aubergine gratin was my introduction to a Greek, or rather Cretan, chef, Adonis Babelakis, whose stories of his mother’s ingenious cooking inspired me to write a book about women’s contribution to cooking. Babelakis serves it every day in his taverna, in Elounda, Crete. It was his mother’s way to cook aubergines, and he credits her in naming the dish.
A measure of its greatness begins with the fact that my husband, an aubergine sceptic, will eat it. Other reasons include the faint flavour of goat butter, the way that Babelakis’s mother prepared the aubergines for frying, the spearmint, the clever way water is used to allow the tomatoes to sweeten without drying out in the pan, and that olive oil is used to cook but then drained off so the dish is not a target of the usual complaint about Greek food – oiliness. Choose firm, long, slim aubergines. They have fewer seeds and a meatier texture.’ – Rose Prince
Ingredients | Serves 4
2 tablespoons fine salt
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
200ml/7fl oz water
1 tablespoon goat butter
leaves from 8 sprigs spearmint (or ordinary mint) chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 tomatoes, grated
1 tablespoon tomato paste
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
leaves from 4 sprigs parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons grated hard ewe’s milk cheese
Prepare the aubergines in advance. Peel and slice them, sprinkle with the salt and put in a plastic bag with holes punched in the base. Shake the bag and leave in a large bowl to catch the bitter water for 1 1/2 -2 hours – no more or the aubergines will dry out. Wash and dry the aubergines, then fry them quickly, in batches using half the oil. It does not matter if they are not fully cooked because they will be baked again later. Drain on a towel and set to one side.
Preheat the oven to 150°c/300°F/Gas 2. Heat the remaining oil in a casserole and add the onions and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, then add 100ml/3 1/2 fl oz of the water. Bring to the boil, then add the goat butter, noting the lovely change in aroma. Add a handful of the chopped spearmint leaves and the ground cumin, then simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes until thick. Add the remaining 100ml/3 1/2 fl oz water, then cook for another 5 minutes. Tilt the pan and spoon out the excess oil, which can be discarded, then tip the tomato mixture into a bowl. Layer the aubergines in the pan, alternating with the tomato mixture, more chopped mint, little handfuls of chopped parsley and scatterings of the grated cheese. Finish with a little more grated cheese and bake for 45 minutes. This is good either hot or at room temperature, and it reheats beautifully.
The continuing story of the rise and fall of good food finds us at the end of a decade of exceptional growth and opportunity, yet once again in crisis. We believe in food icons and celebrity chefs, but their philosophies are no longer convincing, because they cannot possibly understand the predicament of the average family, living through recession and trying to do it right in the kitchen. Where are the cooks with wit, who work out the budget and plan an easy dish that efficiently feeds family and friends?
Full of logical, economical and imaginative recipes that solve the modern cook’s dilemma, Kitchenella: The secrets of women: heroic, simple, nurturing cookery – for everyone will teach you the skills of those teachers who work without books, the ‘mothers’ and the cooks who subsequently learned from them, to decisively show you the easy way to cook and shop.
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