If there is one ingredient widely used around the Mediterranean, it certainly has to be the humble aubergine. A few summers ago we were looking into creating a new vegetarian dish for our menu at Maldonado Bistro. One vegetable which is consistently available throughout the year is the aubergine. And therefore we set out to make it the star of the plate.
Revisiting childhood memories, I remember my late grandmother, Nanna Mariġwann. Mary-Jane in Maltese, she was from Sannat and from time to time would take a roasting dish with whole aubergines and onions to her nearby baker.
Overnight while bread baking was underway, the baker would place the roasting dish in the brick oven to roast away and the next day she would collect it with her purchase of freshly baked Maltese bread.
It was a common thing to do because I would notice that the baker would have more than one dish of roasted food waiting to be collected. The bakery was sort of offering an added service to its customers by utilising the nice hot oven for personalised roasting.
Afterwards, at lunchtime, my grandmother would pull out the roasted layers of onion from its skin and scoop out the aubergine pulp out of its wrinkly casing. It was customary to lay it all out on a plate and add some olive oil, salt and pepper. Slice some freshly baked Maltese sourdough bread, in Maltese better known as ‘kisra ħobż’, and may the meal begin.
To be honest as a child I would think it was grotesque. I actually wondered how someone could eat such a mess on a plate. She would even have leftovers in the fridge and I would immediately steer away from it. Now as I have grown older, and become more appreciative to the many facets of food, I know for sure that whatever my grandmother was eating, it was surely delicious and mouth-watering.
Adapting to the art of plating
Therefore at Maldonado we started thinking on how we can recreate this traditional dish. How can we make the dish look more appetising? More visually appealing? I completely understand that my grandmother was solely interested in the taste of her food. But on the other hand as a restaurant we can’t just get away by serving a mess on a plate. Presentation is just as important as taste.
After some research we discovered that places like Israel and Lebanon share similar habits of consuming the roasted pulp of the aubergine. This is not to be mistaken with Baba Ganoush. It was not our intention to make a dip, and neither use an ingredient such as tahini.
After a few test kitchen experiments, the following is our interpretation of the humble roasted aubergine. We think Nanna Mariġwann would of liked it. We added in some meaty plum tomato (tadam zenguli) and Gozo’s proud sheep cheese. The dish has been well received and deservedly has become a regular vegetarian dish on our summer menu. We hope you find the opportunity to give it a try.
- Roasting Tray
- Paring Knife and Chopping Board
- Handheld Liquidiser
- Potato Masher
- Round flat plates to serve
- 2 Aubergines
- 2 Plum Tomatoes
- 50 ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 cheeselet Semi-dried Gozo Sheep Cheese (not peppered)
- 1 tsp Pine Nuts (toasted)
- 2 tbsp Greek Yoghurt
- 2 sprigs Parsley (finely chopped)
- 1 tsp Sumac
- Sea Salt (to season)
- Black Pepper (to season)
Mise en place
- Wash the aubergines and pierce a few slits with a paring knife. Place in a roasting tin and roast in an oven at 220°C for one hour. No need for any oil or water. Just a simple dry tray.Do not worry if during the baking you see the skins wrinkling or the aubergine shrinking. This is what we need to ensure the flesh of the aubergine is cooked through.
- In the meantime prepare the tomato concasse and reserve for plating. Here we found a sample video to show you how to prepare.
- Liquidise the tomato seeds and membrane with the olive oil and reserve for plating.
- Cut the cheeselet in small cubes and reserve for plating.
- Remove the aubergine from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool, peel off the charred skins and transfer the pulp to a clean bowl. Roughly mash the aubergine pulp with a potato masher.
How to plate
- Divide the aubergine pulp between two plates. With a fork press down the pulp and you should be able to cover the whole plate with one consistent layer of about 1cm.
- With a spoon drizzle the tomato dressing on the surface of the aubergine.
- In the centre of each plate, spoon a tablespoon of yoghurt.
- Spread the tomato concasse, cheese and pine nuts in a circle around the plate.
- Season with sumac, salt and pepper. Finish with some chopped parsley and serve immediately.