Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Special Offer Veggies - Aubergine

I do most of my shopping in Lidl these days. Mostly, I made the choice for economic reasons, however I do like that they are not purely an "own-brand" store but also have some brands that I am quite attached to. I did try out their mayonnaise and ketchup, but I prefer Hellmans and Heinz and it's handy that they are available to me. And it's location is handy for me too, now I can drive.

I also really love the cut price fruit and vegetables they have weekly. They are not alone in this, I know, but I do like to stock up on onions and celery when they are on offer at some ridiculous price (okay, yes - I hear the economics lecture about price to the farmer and cost of production and loss leaders and all that...  And while I can agree in principal with it, it's the economics of my own household that concern me most immediately).

There is usually an item of fruit (strawberries or even a net of lemons), some basics (celery, onion, carrots, peppers etc.) and something exotic. Recently, the more exotic item was aubergine. 

Aren't these handsome devils?!
I have no real beef with aubergine, except that I have a belief that it is somehow "slimy" and also a huge faff to prepare, as you have to sprinkle salt and draw out moisture etc. etc. before attempting to cook it or you end up with a pile of purplish sludge.
On the other hand, they are rather a good-looking vegetable, and I do also remember my brother cooking me a rather tasty aubergine and tomato pasta dish once, and reading after that all the salt sprinkling might not be necessary. And the darn thing is only FORTY NINE cents, and it's a week to payday. 

So I slung it in my basket and off I went.

I am happy to report, that the result was delicious. Better than that, even (I suppose if it had been a disaster, I wouldn't be writing this piece!). And you know what, even if you buy the aubergines full price, it's still an incredibly economical meal.

I went looking for a recipe that I had seen in one of Himself's cookery books, but I couldn't find the book in question. However, I remembered the name - pasta alla Norma - as it amused me. So off to Google with me, and sure enough, plenty of recipes returned.

I chose this  pasta alla Norma recipe from the website www.epicurious.com as it seemed straightforward, had some tasty tips and also did not require weighting and salting. I liked the tip to remove the fluffy seedy centres as well. Some additions were recommended - chilli and oregano, and I also added my own. In the recipe below, I've left them all out apart from the oregano, they were all superfluous and took away from the meal, in my opinion. Feel free to experiment yourself; although I have to say, I think we do sometimes over-complicate Italian recipes, that are often very simplistic and all about the basic ingredient and it's nice to allow that to shine sometimes, too.

Here's my version of the recipe.

Sarah's Pasta alla Norma  Serves 4

  • 2 large, firm aubergines
  • Oil, for frying
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated into finely chopped stems and leaves
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes (I love the Lidl ones again, great consistency)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Love the Le Creuset pot
  1. To prepare the aubergine, cut them in quarters lengthwise. If they have seedy, fluffy centres, cut these out and discard and then cut the pieces in half so you are left with finger sized pieces
  2. Heat about ½ a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick pan (I used the Le Creuset casserole dish since I was recently given one, but in the absence of that, a non-stick pan is preferable, as the aubergine will absorb a certain amount of the oil) and fry off half the aubergine at a time, making sure that each piece gets well tossed and coated in the oil (adding more oil, if required) and dried oregano (this gives a great flavour) and keeping them turned until golden on each side; then remove to a dish and repeat the process with the other half
  3. When all the aubergine has been cooked in the oil and oregano, return all to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add a little drop more oil if required, and then add the chopped garlic and basil stems and cook gently, being careful not to burn the garlic
  4. Add the vinegar and tins of chopped tomatoes and season to taste (I sometimes add a small pinch, maybe a teaspoon, of caster sugar if it is too sharp). Rip up half the basil leaves, and add to the sauce, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes
  5. Serve with the rest of the fresh basil sprinkled on top, pasta and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese
This is fast food at it's best - really easy to cook, super quick to prepare and make, economical and totally delicious. And this is coming from some one who isn't even all that keen on aubergine!

Sarah xx

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