Monday, October 3, 2011

Caramelized Onion and Eggplant on Toasts

Home cookin' is great. But so is restaurant food (I'm sure I don't need to tell you that, America). There's a reason your mouth waters when you walk down streets crowded with restaurants. And it's no coincidence that the restaurant industry is raking it in (taking in an estimated $604billion in 2011).

Yes, one reason is because lots (but not all) of restaurants use all sorts of extra fats and sugars and flavor additives that you would never dream of stocking in your kitchen. But another reason, the part I prefer to think about, is because restaurants have professionally trained chefs who know how to use ingredients. They know the go-to ingredients that always taste good in any dish and they know what flavors have synergy (please forgive me for just using the word synergy). I, as a home cook with zero training, happen to think that onions are one of those ingredients that taste good in any dish. Caramelized onions are sweet and savory at the same time and go well with meats, sandwiches, eggs, cheeses, pasta - you name it!

This onion & eggplant dish tastes like it came from a restaurant. Or maybe a fancy caterer. It's hard to explain exactly what that means, but I promise it means delicious. It comes together with a sophisticated flavor straight away, and doesn't require any fancy-pants cooking knowledge. In fact, you don't even have to get top-notch ingredients. I mean, who ever says, "look at these onions - they're so fresh!" As long as your onion doesn't have weirdo spots or discoloration, it's fine. And to be quite honest, my eggplant was a little dried out. But that was no problem! You can't screw this dish up. And your dinner guests will be falling all over themselves to scoop up the last bits.
Over the summer, my high school BFF got married at a great little inn in upstate NY. One of the hors d'oeuvres was an eggplant spread that, at least according to my memory, tasted just like this one (I'm calling it a spread for lack of a better descriptor, but as you can see, it's chunkalicious). I may or may not have gone overboard tasting the eggplant spread . . . strictly for research purposes, of course. And as luck would have it, one of my recent CSA boxes had a very nice looking, albeit small (and as I would come to find, dried out), eggplant. Obviously, the-powers-that-be wanted me to re-create the wedding eggplant dish. Well, TPTB, challenge accepted.
Eggplant has a high water content, so some eggplant recipes recommend that you salt the eggplant in advance of cooking to sweat out some of the moisture (for example, you might want to do this if you have a very fresh eggplant that you're using in an eggplant parmesan to avoid getting a soup-sauce). But since a) my eggplant was dry anyway, and b) a little extra moisture is fine for this dish, I didn't do any pre-salting. You don't have to either (because even if you did end up with a lot of extra liquid in your eggplant spread, you could just use a slotted spoon to scoop it into your serving dish).

I tested the spread with both goat cheese and feta cheese and thought the feta was perfect (goat was good, but the feta was great). And if you'd rather serve this as a main course, it would make an insane panini. For a little more substance, add prosciutto and serve on a ciabatta roll. Damn, that sounds so good. Just thinking out loud here.

Caramelized Onion & Eggplant on Toasts

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer 

1 medium eggplant
1 medium onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
4-6 tbs olive oil
1 baguette
plain feta cheese crumbles

Peel and dice eggplant. Peel and dice onion. In two separate skillets, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat (2 tbs. in each pan). Add eggplant to one pan and onion to the other (use a larger pan for the onion). Eggplant will cook for 15-20 minutes, onions will cook for 20-25 minutes. Both should cook down until very limp and easily cut with your spatula.

After 20 minutes, turn off heat under eggplant. Add minced garlic to onions and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add eggplant to the onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave over heat for another few minutes.

Preheat oven to 350. Slice baguette and place slices on a cookie sheet. Since it's being toasted, the bread does not need to be super-fresh. This is a perfect recipe for using up day-old (or several-day-old) baguette remnants. Toast baguette slices in the preheated oven until lightly browned (3 to 4 minutes).

Serve eggplant & onion mix on toasted baguette slices with plain feta cheese crumbles on top.

1 comment:

  1. Yum! I wish I'd seen this before I started making eggplant for dinner tonight -- good thing there's another one sitting on the counter.


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