I spend a lot of time in my cooking classes teaching people to like things they thought they hated. In most cases, we dislike food because it's been mistreated or otherwise misunderstood in some way. Whether it's over-cooked, under-cooked or simply not understood, we can often lose the maximum flavor and deliciousness for food. This is especially true for vegetables. One of the most common examples is eggplant or aubergine. Even I, as a child, hated eggplant. But, it can be incredibly delicious, rich and complex. The trick is knowing what it wants! It wants to be released from its bitterness and appreciated and coaxed to complexity. Don't we all?
Serves 6-8 as snack
1 medium Italian eggplant, sliced in 1/2" slices, purged of bitterness (see below instructions)
1 T. kosher salt
1 hot long red Italian chili pepper
1 T. pine nuts, toasted
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 package olive oil crisp bread or other crispy Mediterranean flatbreads
1) Slice eggplant and place in large colander. Sprinkle each slice evenly with the kosher salt, making sure the slices are all covered. Let the colander drain in a sink or over a bowl for 30 minutes. The salt extracts some of the juices from the eggplant and particularly, the bitterness. You'll see the liquid that strains out is dark brownish. That's bitterness you're removing! Lightly rinse the salt off the eggplant slices and wrap each slice in paper towels and squeeze dry. Get as much moisture out without damaging the eggplant. Spread the slices out flat on a cooling rack and let them sit another 30 minutes.
2) Light a grill our stove burner with grill pan and preheat. Lightly brush a layer of olive oil on the eggplant slices and grill until soft and nicely blackened, about 4-5 minutes each side. Remove the eggplant from the grill. In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts until golden brown and fragrant, bout 3-5 minutes.
3) Add the eggplant, red chile pepper and pine nuts to a food processor and pulse into a thick paste. Add in the lemon juice and ground black pepper and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust any seasoning. You may need a pinch of salt since the only salt we used was in the purging at the beginning. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, while the processor is running until the dip is soft and creamy.
4) Scrape the dip into a serving bowl and serve with olive oil crisp bread or flatbreads immediately.