Oh but Jean…

It’s cold. Finger-chillingly-indoors cold. I know we don’t live through particularly long winters (as in, we don’t have months of snow to contend with) but I am still feeling a little weary of cold. Time to think of warm weather ingredients: like aubergine.

The title of the post is how we tend to say it. It comes from a friend of ours, whose mum is called Jean. And I like a little wordplay to go with my ingredients.

Aubergine. How I love thee. Back in the days of being a vegetarian, I used to be embarrassed by how much I liked aubergine, but how it was…well, fleshy.

When they’re ripe, you might as well be biting into a small plump upper arm. Luckily the similarity stops fairly soon on when you eat them. I think I’d better stop on that analogy but it did cause a bit of vegetarian guilt at the time.

I remember making an aubergine dish for my dad. Response: that’s nice, would be even better with some meat…Still, I was convinced. My redoubtable great aunt had served me moussaka, admittedly with potato in, but also aubergine. Racy. Or so it felt at the time.

Cut to a stay in London with my uncle and aunt. She showed me how to make aubergine, tomato and mozzarella in the grill pan – further convincing as to its value. I still hadn’t got the hang of cooking aubergine for long enough, so it squeaked a bit when I bit into it, but I was on my way.

One of the things I used to like about aubergine was the little bit of ritual: the cutting, salting, weighting it down with whatever combination of dishes and heavy things. The trickle of juice once you unmoulded it, and washed it down. I don’t often bother with salting it, these days, but I still like the notion of it.

Later still: parmigiana. My Italian flatmate introduced me to many good things, and one of these was making parmigiana: really an oven baked version of the grill pan recipe.

I don’t often go the whole Italian route (sometimes shallow frying with egg and flour to add more crisp), but it is one of the wonderful tastes of early summer. (Or, as we say in Scotland, the first week of May.)

It took a while to taste really good aubergine. There was a memorable mezze meal at a Turkish restaurant in Edinburgh where we had Imam Bayildi (aubergine and tomato, cooked to an unctuous finish). I too would swoon (the name means ‘the imam swooned’).

I would still say that making moussaka is one of my ‘treats to myself’ meals. We have a Tess Malos cookbook from which I take my recipe: let’s just say that a little egg and nutmeg in the finishing of the white sauce is a transformer.

More recent aubergine extravaganzas include Contorni (I think it’s a Nigella ‘Forever Summer’ recipe): griddled aubergine wrapped around whatever. Something sharp like feta is a good foil to the aubergine, but you could equally spread it with hummus. As long as it has a bit of a kick, it’s all good.

The imam could have swooned, and said ‘Oh but Jean…’ if only he’d known. But he recognised a good thing when he ate the mighty aubergine. As do I.

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