Cooking, like running and coaching, is a lifelong learning process. However good you become, there is always more you can learn. There is no limit to how far you can master your craft. With cooking, I’ve tried over the years to move away from relying on recipes, and instead tried to work with what I know about ingredients to bring out the best in them and be creative.
One of my favourite vegetables is the humble aubergine. Its key characteristic, apart from its beautiful deep purple colour, is that it is like a sponge – not too exciting on its own, but it absorbs flavours and oils really well which can turn an unremarkable vegetable into something truly delicious. If you think about aubergine dishes across the world, such as French ratatouille, Arab baba ghanoush or Greek moussaka, many of them are strongly flavoured with other ingredients. Aubergines are versatile and lend themselves to being used in all sorts of ways… just add your favourite flavours and make sure you fry them long enough to soften the flesh to a lovely soft consistency.
My recipe today is a classic Italian way of cooking aubergines – adding tomato sauce and cheese. Melanzane parmigiana, or aubergines with parmesan, is a simple but filling vegetarian dish which can be eaten as a side dish, but is also substantial enough to be a main course.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Olive oil for frying
500g tinned or fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
200g mozzarella cheese, sliced
75g parmesan cheese, finely grated
• Slice the aubergines into rings about 1cm thick, spread out on a tray and sprinkle salt over. Leave for one hour. This draws the moisture out of them.
• To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion and garlic for five minutes in olive oil. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, vinegar, oregano, basil, bay leaves and salt & pepper, mix well and simmer gently for 40 minutes until thickened.
• Remove the bay leaves. Rinse the aubergines with cold water and pat dry. Fry the aubergine slices on both sides in a flat frying pan until browned, adding extra olive oil as it gets absorbed by the aubergines.
• Place the aubergine slices in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, followed by a layer of sliced mozzarella, then tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Repeat this layering depending on how big your dish is, finishing with tomato sauce and parmesan on top.
• Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 Celsius for 50 mins until browned on top and cooked through. Enjoy!