Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roasted Eggplant and Vegetable Spread

September is winding down and so is my vegetable garden.  This week we said a sad goodbye to our tomato plants.  Last year our tomatoes lasted well into October, but I think the volume of rain that has fallen since the end of August just plain did them in.  Tomatoes were splitting on the vine even though we were picking like crazy.  Paul managed to pick about 4 more pounds of tomatoes before those vines met their fate in the compost heap.   I still have some jalapeños growing and will most likely pick and pickle them by next weekend....and yes, the eggplant is still going strong.  

We planted 2 Black Beauty eggplant vines this year.  At first I wasn't sure they would make it.  They were a slow go, but once the summer heated up and the rain fell, those vines have been producing like gangbusters.  Right now there are about a dozen eggplants left on the vines and I am running out of eggplant enthusiasm.  I have made eggplant Parmesan, eggplant gratin, roasted eggplant, stuffed eggplant, grilled eggplant, ratatouille and given quite a bit of eggplant away.  One of my favorite ways to get rid of  prepare eggplant is to roast it with some aromatic vegetables and create a delicious and versatile "spread".  I put the word "spread" in quotes because you will see, it is much more than a spread.  

For years I used to make the Roasted Eggplant Spread from this Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  I've since put my own spin on it based upon what I had on hand.  It does involve a lot of cutting, but that's the bulk of the work.  Last time I made it, I made a big batch.  I froze half of it in small plastic containers and I am happy to report, this recipe freezes well without sacrificing flavor or texture.  It's a wonderful appetizer to serve with a sliced baguette or toasted pita chips.  You can even top it with a sprinkle of feta.  If you want to avoid the carbs, fill some endive leaves with the spread.  It tastes great on a turkey sandwich and is a flavorful addition to a roasted veggie and mozzarella panini.  I've even tossed some into sautéd zucchini, mushrooms and pasta creating a quick and yummy weeknight dinner.  As I am writing this I realize that I have only scratched the surface of the potential of this versatile spread.  

I like to use smallish eggplants for this dish.  They are firm and seem less seedy to me.  I also like to leave the peel on.  I grow the eggplant and know that they were never sprayed with pesticides.  I also like the color and texture it lends to the dish.  If you are one of those people who have an aversion to eggplant peel, by all means remove it.  I almost always roast this in the oven, but on a hot and humid day, I have also fired up the gas grill, tossed the vegetables into a disposable aluminum pan and roasted them outdoors.  If you do this, be aware the cooking time will be reduced and you will need to stir the veggies more often.  Don't let them stick to the bottom and burn.  
Roasted Eggplant and Vegetable Spread
Inspired by Ina Garten's Roasted Eggplant Spread
Makes about 2 1/2 pints
  • 3 small eggplants (about 3 pounds total), cubed
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/2  cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cubed (or 2 small peppers)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes ( use less or omit if you do not like heat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup kalmata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
Cut all the vegetable into one inch cubes.  Put cut vegetable into a large bowl.  
In a small bowl combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic.
Drizzle oil mixture over vegetables and toss.
Add the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Toss again.
Spread onto two baking sheets with sides - if you can fit them on one sheet in a single layer, that's fine too.
Roast in 425 degree oven for 40 - 50 minutes.
Stir them once while they are roasting (about halfway through roasting).  At this point, sprinkle the chopped oregano into the mix and continue roasting.  
Vegetables should be tender and lightly caramelized when done.
Allow to vegetables to cool.
In two batches, process the roasted vegetables along with the kalamata olives in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Pulse 2 times, scrape down sides and pulse again 2 or 3 more times.  Mixture should have still have some texture. 
Correct seasoning if necessary.

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