Not strictly a vegetarian recipe as it has anchovies but this substantial appetizer will delight the occasional fish eater who considers themselves ‘almost vegetarian’ – and those of you who simply crave good, rustic food bursting with Mediterranean flavors, will also love this colorful dish.
I suppose anchovy haters could leave them out but that would defy the object as they add an indefinable richness rather than a fishy-ness.
The eggplant and tomato sauce can easily be prepared ahead of time. Just bring everything to room temperature for the final part which only takes about 10 minutes – then you’ll be ready to serve.
If you can’t find Idiazabal (a firm-textured smoked Basque sheep’s-milk cheese), use smoked Gouda – or perhaps try smoked Mozzarella instead.
Offer some warm crusty bread on the side to mop up any juices.
BAKED EGGPLANT with SMOKED CHEESE, ANCHOVIES & TOMATO
(Serves 4 as a substantial side dish, appetizer or as a light lunch)
2 eggplants (aubergines) weighing approx 1 lb (0.5k) each
¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 cups (480ml) of plain tomato sauce (not ketchup)
2 oz (57g) of Idiazabal or smoked Gouda cheese, grated
¼ cup (to the 60ml measure) of dried breadcrumbs, preferably home-made
12 anchovy fillets
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)
Trim and halve the eggplants then brush the cut sides with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Arrange them in a baking dish, cut side up. Season with sea salt and black pepper and after the first 20 minutes in the oven, brush the cut surfaces with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.
Bake for another 20 minutes or until they’re tender. Set aside (if making ahead, cool then cover and chill until you’re ready to add the toppings).
For the tomato sauce: heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy pan and add the garlic. Cook over a medium heat until the garlic is golden then add the tomato sauce; reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 20 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened.
Meanwhile, combine the grated cheese, breadcrumbs and remaining olive oil in a bowl – mix together with a fork.
To assemble; spoon the tomato sauce equally onto the cooked eggplants (if made ahead, bring to room temp first). Sprinkle the cheese and crumb mixture over the sauce and drape the anchovies across the top.
Bake at 400F (200C) for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the crust is golden.