As you’ve seen in our weekly CSA produce posts, we’ve been getting eggplant quite regularly. Most times, we make up a big batch of ratatouille which uses a lot of eggplant all at once. It also happens to use up some of that summer squash, thereby doing double duty. And, it’s delicious making it one of our favorite ways to eat both vegetables.
Since it’s always good to try new dishes, we thought that we’d try making up a batch of Eggplant Caviar. We’ve seen this recipe in several cookbooks, but we went with the recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook, by Thomas Keller, since we’ve found that his recipes, while exacting, are nearly perfect. The instructions are clear, and the results are always worth the effort. Of course, even with his effort at clarity, sometimes — as you’ll see in this recipe — we do something that isn’t quite right, making more trouble for us. Don’t worry; we’ll point out our mistake so you won’t do the same thing while scratchin’ out this condiment.
Not much to say, since this is mainly about preparing eggplant. While the original recipe called for Dijon mustard, we now make our own mustard, so we just use that. If you want to try your hand, we recommend the white wine mustard for this recipe. The amount of olive oil is so small, you could probably get by with using any kind of oil, but if you do want to use extra-virgin olive oil, consider reading this.
Procedure in detail:
Score, salt, and press. We don’t know what we were thinking, but we scored both the cut side and the skin side of the eggplant. Do not make the same mistake by scoring the skin side; you’ll only make it more difficult to remove the flesh later. Score only the cut side of the eggplant and rub with kosher salt. Place the eggplant halves, cut side down, on a large plate, and cover with a baking sheet weighed down with cans of vegetables, heavy pans, or anything else that weighs between 5 and 10 pounds.
Wait. Let the eggplant drain out liquid for about an hour. A bit longer is okay, and a bit shorter would work, too. You’re just trying to get moisture out of the eggplant flesh.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil a baking sheet with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Dry eggplant. Using a paper towel, dry each eggplant half and place it cut side down on the oiled baking sheet.
Bake. Slide eggplant into the oven and bake until very soft, about 1 hour. As the eggplant gets closer to being done, it might even start to collapse a bit. That’s good, as you want the eggplant somewhat like a paste when done. Once baked, let cool until you can handle it easily.
Scoop. If the eggplants are mature, they’ll have a bunch of seeds that you’ll want to remove and discard, as they’ll affect the texture. We only had a few, so we left them in. Once you’ve removed the seeds, pull off the skins and discard. If the eggplant is still quite moist, squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
Smash garlic. The original recipe called for everything to go into a food processor, and you can do that, but we find that cleaning a single bowl is a lot easier than cleaning the food processor, so we went the easy route. Place garlic in a small bowl, add just a touch of olive oil, and use the back of a spoon to mash the garlic into a paste.
Combine. Add the eggplant flesh, along with the mustard and remaining tablespoon of olive oil, to the garlic, and smash and stir until combined.
Taste and season. Give the eggplant caviar a taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve. The instructions suggested serving on crostini (small toasts), which is what we did, or using it as a topping for pizza, or a filling for omelets. To us, that sounds like an all-purpose condiment, so feel free to try it in different preparations.
This was very similar to Baba Ganoush — we just noticed that we haven’t written that up, so watch for it — but without the nice smoky flavor that comes from grilling the eggplant. Overall, we were expecting more from this recipe. It was good, and a good way to use up eggplant, but it wasn’t great. No flavor really stood out except for the eggplant flavor, and, as you know, the texture of cooked eggplant isn’t always the best. While we liked the crostini with eggplant caviar, we think that if we were to make it again, we’d either add a bit of liquid smoke or some smoked paprika. We’ll say three stars as is.