I love melanzane and I liked them also as a child (when most vegetables were on my black list), maybe because my mother did not cook melanzane, so they had an aura of mystery around them.
Such love was not affected by the worst kitchen disaster that ever happened to me the first time I tried to roast a whole eggplant (una melanzana intera). One day, I decided to make baba ganoush, first tasted some years before in a Lebanese restaurant in Tangier, Morocco. I bought a big eggplant and put it in the hot oven. The recipe made it clear that I needed to pierce the eggplant before roasting it, but I overlooked the recommendation and what a price did I pay for my mistake! At some point, I heard a strange noise with an explosive component to it, and, upon opening the oven door, I was presented with a mess that left me speechless. You have no idea how many seeds there are in an eggplant until you see them scattered all over your oven, no idea how much pulp a plump eggplant has until you must retrieve every shred of it from the remotest corner of your oven. That was it for me and whole eggplants, until very recently, when I decided I could handle the roasting process again, confident that the painful memory of the unpierced eggplant would prevent me from repeating the mistake.
The recipe I used as inspiration for this comeback comes from my beloved "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison, and it is called Roasted Eggplant with Dill, Yogurt and Walnuts. The interesting thing is that it requires to stick slices of a garlic clove in 4-5 slits made on the eggplant, so there is no way one can forget to pierce the eggplant before roasting it. The roasting occurs at 425 F and takes 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. When the melanzana arrosto is cool, remove the skin and seeds, then chop the pulp finely and mash with it a fork. Add some labneh and mix well. I have been making labneh regularly recently, using as little as one cup of plain non-fat yogurt, so I have a steady supply to use in various dishes.
In a mortar, pound one clove of garlic with some salt (2 if they are small or the eggplant is big)1. Finely chop some fresh aneto (dill) and some toasted walnuts (I blanch walnuts and toast them in the oven in batches, because I use a lot of them, so I always have some in the fridge, ready for use). Add the seasoning to the roasted eggplant and labneh mix, and stir well. Sprinkle some salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste. I don't measure the ingredients and prefer to adjust them based on the result of my tasting the final product. You can serve the melanzana as a spread (in which case you may want to make sure its consistency is creamy, maybe by adding a bit of olive oil) or as a side dish (in which case, a chunkier texture is fine).
1 Addendum: I have made this recipe with roasted, mashed garlic instead of raw, pounded garlic and I personally liked it better. I would suggest this version if you prefer a less intense garlic flavor. Roast 2 unpeeled garlic cloves wrapped in foil for 15 minutes together with the eggplant. Once cooled, peel them and mash together with the eggplant pulp.
This is my contribution to the current edition of Fresh Produce of the Month, an event created by Marta, An Italian in the US, which I have the honor of hosting this month. Marta was actually one of the guests who tasted my first rendition of the dish.
Here is the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the melanzana arrosto audio file [mp3].
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