Enjoying the last of the summer aubergines
Autumn is here, they say, but in Athens it still feels like summer. Even with the odd, passing thunderstorm, we are enjoying plain sunshine and we run to the beach over the weekend to enjoy a swim and soak up the sun. Most of us are back into schedule, holidays seems like a long gone dream. But hey, there are aubergines, last of their season and they taste like summer! Especially when baked with tomatoes and topped off with feta cheese.
Head straight to the recipe.
I hope I’m not the first one to break to you the news, but aubergine, like tomato, is actually a fruit, indeed a berry. Most apparent on the small pea aubergines, used in Thai cuisine that I cannot lay my hands on, being in Athens. Neither can I find the sunny yellow variety, that I can only browse on the web. But which varieties do we have?.
Of course the most loved and mainstream aubergine is the plump, pear-shaped, dark purple aubergine. Shiny and firm it makes our moussaka and aubergine dip. It’s ubiquitous across the Med, ever since the 11th century that the Arabs brought them to us from the Far East.
In Greece we have a PDO aubergine too: long in shape and streaky purple. This is grown in Leonidio, in the Peloponnese and we call them tsakonikes. These look similar to the Chinese, Oriental charm variety, they have evolved since we got them! Admittedly they are one of the favourites when frying and baking.
We get ivory aubergines, as well. The ivory ones are cultivated in Santorini and Crete, from heirloom seeds, so sweet, they can melt your heart.
How do you cook aubergines?
Well, in any way you fancy, aubergines are as versatile as potatoes. Most of our recipes call for a bit of preparation. Disgorging will pop up in all of the old recipes Greek grand-mas pass on. I find the method somewhat redundant, especially when you are baking aubergines. However, it might still be needed for frying.
Sprinkling them with salt and leaving them in a colander for 10 minutes to 1 hour, that was the advice. This was necessary for older varieties, crops have now evolved to make aubergines taste sweeter. What disgorging does though, is eliminate tinniness and they won’t be absorbing as much oil when fried. I normally by-pass this deep frying step, even in moussaka as inevitable makes the dish heavier. So my tip, bake and forget anything about disgorging.
In case you are wondering when aubergines are in season: May to October
This aubergine, tomato and feta bake is in my top 5 of quick and super tasty dishes. It brings sunshine into my life, summer sweetness no matter where you are. It has been tested even during gloomy British winter, when aubergines have travelled far and wide to get to the shelves. Here is what you will need:
- 2-3 large aubergines
- 3-4 large ripe tomatoes, grated or 500 gr of tinned tomatoes
- 1 large onion
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 stalks of basil
- 1 tsp of tomato paste
- a pinch of sugar
- 150 gr feta cheese
- salt and pepper to taste (take it easy on the salt, there is feta cheese)
- olive oil
How to make it:
- Slice the aubergines in half-inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet and lightly brush with olive oil
- Bake at 220 C for 10-15 minutes, until brown.
- Whilst the aubergines are baking, make the sauce.
- Finely chop the onion and smash the garlic cloves.
- Heat up in your frying pan a tablespoon of olive oil, add the onions and cook until translucent.
- Then add your garlic, pressed .
- Add in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, a pinch of sugar and seasoning. Bring to the boil and simmer for approx 15 minutes.
- Once the aubergines are baked, transfer in a deep baking dish.
- Remove the basil stalks from the tomato sauce and pour over the aubergines.
- Sprinkle with feta cheese and bake in a preheated oven for approximately 15-20 minutes.
- Ready to serve!Don’t forget to grab a huge loaf of bread to mop up the sauce.
Other aubergine dishes to try? Well, there are the old time Greek classics: moussaka, imam bayildi, we also stuff them in yemista, we make aubergine dip and have our own version of ratatouille, briam. I like aubergines in a burger patty too!
Do you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments!
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From Athens with love,