Finally got some time over the weekend to do some cooking. The occasion was my mother's birthday, and the opportunity was Gordon Ramsay's Passion for Flavour that I had borrowed from the library earlier. It fell upon me to do a starter, and I originally thought of Ramsay's Tian of Tomatoes a la Greque. It seemed a little complicated though, so I decided to modify it.
Central to either recipe is the Aubergine Caviar, though. Aubergines, I have discovered, are much underrated. Their off-putting purplish hue belies a very versatile and useful vegetable. Ramsay's aubergine caviar is a neutral-tasting all-purpose intermediate ingredient that can be used as a stuffing, side or starter.
1 sprig rosemary
1 clove garlic
50g diced cucumber (optional)
1 tsp each of sliced basil, chives and parsley
Notes on ingredients: It's better to use larger aubergines rather than the small Japanese nasu, even if the latter are sweeter.
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Cut the tops off the aubergine and halve it lengthwise. Score the flesh in a diamond pattern and sprinkle with salt, though not too generously.
Place the garlic and rosemary on one half and sandwich with the other, then wrap aubergine sandwich with foil. Place it on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 45 mins.
Reduce the temperature to 110°C and bake for another 20 mins.
Unwrap the aubergine, by which time its skin should have shrivelled and the flesh should have become very soft. Scrape away the garlic and rosemary.
Scoop out the aubergine flesh onto a chopping board and chop with a knife till you obtain aubergine pulp.
Place the pulp in a saucepan and heat over a low flame, until the excess moisture has evaporated and the aubergine pulp - caviar, as Ramsay now calls it - is quite dry. I added in the sliced herbs while heating, allowing them to wilt and infuse the aubergine pulp. Use either warm or cold.
I underestimated the amount of stuffing I needed, so I bulked it up with some diced cucumber, mixed in after the aubergine pulp had been heated and cooled. I found this added texture and moisture to the aubergine without making it moist and improved it considerably.
In this particular instance, the aubergine caviar was used to stuff hollowed out Japanese Momotaro tomatoes. If you plan on doing this, I strongly recommend buying these expensive tomatoes, because they are the sweetest I have ever tasted, which works well with the otherwise slightly bland caviar. Using sour local tomatoes, or even the pricey vine-ripened ones just isn't worth it, and the dish probably will not be well-received.