Simple pleasures

Midsummer night’s rain

It’s June. At least the calendar says so. You wouldn’t know from the amount of rain we’ve had. The garden has plenty of flowers blooming, and even the redcurrant bush is fruiting, but there has not yet been a single balmy evening to sit outside and have a light, summery meal.

Thankfully, this aubergine dish has perked up our spirits. It’s rich and so full of flavour that you can forgive the grey skies and feel nourished instead. It’s such a simple meal and once the initial frying of the aubergines is done, you can sit back and let time and heat do the rest.

It’s also a dish you can adjust to your mood. We’ve had three versions of it over the past weeks; one with red peppers and plenty of cumin and ground coriander mixed in and another with toasted pine nuts and chick peas added at the end. All of them have been laced with parsley though, and this one, the simplest of all, is just cooked with a tomato sauce full of thyme, rosemary and dried winter savoury (use marjoram or oregano if you don’t have any).

2 aubergines of fair heft, sliced into half centimetre thick discs
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tin of good quality plum tomatoes
2tbsp good tomato purée
1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
Butter, plenty of it. Two tablespoons should do, but don’t be scared. Everything is better with butter.
2tsp each of dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried winter savoury
Plenty of salt and pepper, you’re going to need to salt the aubergine first
A splash of water, about half the tomato tin’s worth
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped. Flat leaf or curly is up to you. I prefer curly for the texture, but they both taste the same to me.

Put the sliced aubergine in a colander and salt very well, mixing with your hands until all of it has a fine coat. Put the colander in a large bowl and leave for about half an hour. This will remove lots of the water and make frying easier. They also won’t absorb so much oil.
Give them a quick rinse and pat dry and fry, in batches, until each side is golden in plenty of good olive oil.

Transfer the discs to a paper-lined plate as you go until all the aubergine is fried.

Add a splash more of olive oil to the pan and soften the onions until translucent and just starting to colour. Season a touch, not forgetting the aubergine is quite salty still, and add the garlic. Cook for 30 seconds or so.
Pour in the tomatoes and squeeze the purée into the tin. Half fill with water, swirl it around or stir it well with a spoon and add to the pan.
Now add the herbs and butter and stir well.
Gently lay the aubergines in the sauce, almost folding them in. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan, turn the heat down and cook gently for about half and hour to 45 minutes. The sauce should be thick and velvety.

Serve warm rather than straight away. A good fifteen minute rest should be about enough. However, this dish tastes even better the next day.

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