Then Serve It Forth…

By Lady Rosemary Willowwood de Ste. Anne

Summer harvest is upon us with all its sweat and bounty. I thought I’d go back to the recipes common to sunnier climes, since the season for dishes like eggplant is in full swing. This dish would do well using either the huge football-sized eggplant, the long oriental one, or the more medieval egg-sized eggplant, in any color.

“Alberginies a la morisca” (Moorish Eggplant)
from Libre del Coch (1529, Barcelona)
Text and translation by Robin Carroll-Mann [1]

Les alberginies pendras e fer nas quartes e mundales d<e>la escorxa: e apres met les a bullir: e com seran be<n> ceytes leuar les has del foch e prem les entre dosd talladors: e apres capola les e vajen ala olla e sien molt ben çoffregides ab bona carn salada: o ab oli que sia dolç q<ue> los moros no mengen carn salada: quant sien be<n> çoffregides met les a coure en vna olla e met hi del brou mes gras dela carn e formatge rallat q<ue> sia fi: e a totes seliandre poluorizat e apres estrijola les be axico<m> a carabaces e com sien prop de cuytes met hi rouells ke hous debatus ab agresta c<om> se fossen carabasses.

TRANSLATION: Peel the eggplants and quarter them, and their skins having been peeled, set them to cook; and when they are well-cooked, remove them from the fire, then squeeze them between two wooden chopping clocks, so they do not retain water. And then chop them with a knife. And let them go to the pot and let them be gently fried, very well, with good bacon or with sweet oil, because the Moors do not eat bacon. And when they are gently fried, set them to cook in a pot and cast in good fatty broth, and the fat of meat, and grated cheese which is fine, and above all, ground coriander, and then stir it with a havarillo like gourds; and when they are nearly cooked, put in egg yolks beaten with verjuice, as if they were gourds.

REALIZATION: Peel a moderate sized eggplant, or enough long oriental eggplants to approximately equal volume. Cut a large eggplant lengthwise in eighths, long oriental eggplants lengthwise in halves or quarters, and any other size eggplant in pieces not more than about 1 to 1-½ inches thick at any point. Steam the peeled chunks in a small amount of salted water until easily pierced, but still relatively firm. Remove from the pan and press slightly to drain. If you have a piece of plastic needlepoint canvas, one excellent way to press the eggplants is to place the canvas on a steel cooling rack in a rimmed cookie sheet (to catch the liquid), place the steamed eggplants on top, and cover with a wooden cutting board weighted with several full cans totaling a pound or so. Leave for 20 minutes or so. You can try pressing them between two boards with hand pressure, but don’t squeeze so hard that you are left with mush.

Once the eggplant is pressed, cut it into approximately 1” cubes. Fry in olive oil or bacon grease until well-colored; small pieces may even be crisp. Add about two cups strong broth of your choice, adding finely chopped bacon or salt-pork to taste, and about 1 tsp of ground coriander. Simmer over gentle heat for nearly an hour, until the eggplant is very soft. Stir vigorously, until you have a texture like very chunky salsa. To finish, beat together one egg yolk and about ¼ cup cider vinegar. Beat in about ½ cup of broth from the eggplants. Pour the egg/vinegar/broth mixture into the eggplants, stirring constantly, then add 1/3 cup grated sharp cheese such as parmesan, and stir continuously until thickened. Serve as a vegetable or thick soup, sprinkled with chopped cilantro. 

The point of the pressing and draining is to removed juices considered by some to be bitter. (Some people don’t find it so; tastes differ.) You can do essentially the same thing with the old trick of generously salting the peeled eggplant, weighting it, and pouring off the brine which will accumulate. Not necessarily authentic, but you run much less risk of over-steaming the eggplant and ending up with mush. Try the dish prepared all three ways, and pick whichever tastes best to you.

There is some variation in this recipe, because modern eggplants or “augergines” (see glossary) come in many shapes and sizes. Eggplant is called “eggplant” because the original fruit was oval and about the size of a goose-egg. And it was white, as many of the primitive carrots were. If you prowl in seed catalogs, you can find modern eggplants of the same shape and color. But all are prepared the same way.

GLOSSARY

Havarillo: Stefan’s Florilegium defines this implement as “a kind of implement for stirring./beating food. Its description and the meaning of its name are unknown. It appears in those recipes in which the food (such as boiled gourds and eggplant) is to be so well-stirred that it is nearly pureed, with not a lump remaining.”

Aubergines: Common European name for the vegetable the English called “eggplant”, because the original vegetable was the size, shape and color of an egg.

[1] As published in Stefan’s Florilegium, available on the web at http://www/florilegium.org. Copyright to the recipe remains with the author, Robin Carroll-Mann, 2001.