Roasted Aubergine in Rich Tomato Sauce with Sage and Parmesan Polenta

The River Deben in Woodbridge, from the railway bridge. 

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This morning I took the 8.39am train from Woodbridge to London after doing the crossword in the East Anglian Daily Times in the Whistlestop café – whose filter coffee is far better than might be imagined from first appearances. I had been in Suffolk for the annual Burns night party and ceilidh for sailors of ’Loch Longs’ (an 18ft keel boat), which I started sailing last year with my Dad and the amazing boatbuilder Nigel Waller. 

Unusually, the train was on time, and what’s more, Margaret Howell, arguably the best modern British clothing designer around, was on board too. This added a frisson of glamour to the journey (though her designs refuse glamour, per se, at every turn). It is well known that she lives in the beaten, wind-blasted coastal village of Bawdsey a few miles up the road from Woodbridge, the scenery of which is said to inform the palette and mood of her collections. 

When I finally arrived back to the flat just the Dalston side of Newington Green, I decided it would be wise to do some food shopping as it would be a busy week, and would save time (and prevent takeaways) later-on by going to the grocer shop under the flat (that I moved to fairly recently). This was a successful trip: from an ‘ach so’ uttered by the proprietor I worked out that he was German (this is my PhD subject), and we then introduced ourselves auf Deutsch, and he threw in a punnet of blackberries and a discount. I had it in mind to cook aubergines, which I haven’t done in a while, and also picked up a bag of fine polenta. Subsequently my friend Dani (AKA shit-hot-barrister-in-training) texted about a low-key dinner, and I came up with this based on what I’d picked up from the shops – and I think we were both delighted with the result.

I roasted the aubergines when I was eating lunch at home before going to the library, so they had the whole afternoon/early evening for their flavour to develop post-roasting. This interval is not necessary, but thought I should mention it.

Also, I would like to say that Baxter’s tinned split-pea and ham soup, which I had while they were roasting, was delicious.

Served 2 – and we cleaned up

Ingredients:

Aubergines for roasting:

2 aubergines, trimmed and cut into 2cm thick slices

few sage leaves, finely chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

few pinches of chilli flakes

olive oil

Sauce:

½ tin, chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon, tomato puree

1 tablespoon, white wine or sherry

1 teaspoon, red wine vinegar

pinch of sugar

Polenta:

100g fine polenta

400ml of salted boiling water

heap of grated parmesan or equivalent

squeeze of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of finely chopped lemon rind

a few sage leaves, finely chopped

knob of butter

How to make:

Turn the oven up high. Brush the aubergine slices all over with olive oil and place in roasting dish. Sprinkle over ½ of the sage, garlic and chilli flakes and season. Cook for 15-20 minutes until browned and softening, then turn and sprinkle over the remaining garlic, sage and chilli and season again. Cook until very soft but not charred. Remove from oven.

Cut roasted aubergine slices into quarters and place in a frying pan with all of the sauce ingredients, stir them up together, and cook gently for 5-10 minutes on a medium heat, the sauce should not be too liquid, if it is, reduce further. Check seasoning.

Meanwhile, slowly pour polenta into just boiled, salted water that has been measured out – off the heat- stirring vigourously. Add in butter and cheese and sage, squeeze of lemon juice and rind, and keep stirring until mixed in. Replace on to the heat and stir until just bubbling, then serve after checking seasoning. 

Place dollop of polenta on a plate and top with the aubergine in the sauce. If you wish, garnish with more parmesan or chilli flakes. 

Eaten with:

Red wine, provided by Dani, and a salad of finely sliced fennel and rocket with a bit of good extra virgin olive oil, salt and sprinkling of vinegar.

Followed by segmented oranges with blackberries and caramel walnuts. 

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