Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Aubergine stew


I spent quite a lot of 2000 and 2001 trying and failing to sleep in cars. Or in fields. Or in tents. Or on a drunkenly-constructed bed made from beanbags. I also spent some of it trying to turf drunks out of my bed, or being turfed out of someone else's bed, across which I was drunkenly splashed.

I went to Bristol University, you see, and everyone just had to have a 21st birthday party. And everyone seemed to live in the countryside. So they'd put up a big tent in their garden and drag some chairs and tables in and serve up dry chicken and fruit mousse and then put on loud disco music and everyone would jiggle about like stupid tossers and then at about 3am everyone had to find somewhere to sleep.

They always ended at sort of 3am, those parties. No-one really took drugs, you see, which I hear is what you need to get you past that 3am stage. Drink will get you so far and then you need help. At Bristol, only weirdos took drugs. Normal people just drank. And drank. And drank.

Anyway, one day I decided that enough was enough. I wasn't going to go to any more parties where I couldn't be guaranteed a bed. I was too old, I reasoned, at 21, to do this any more. It was undiginified and stupid. I wanted a bed in the GOOD part of the house, I would say. Not in the living room or in an obvious first-floor location.

I wanted to know where they were hiding the good shit, the reserved alcove which would be kept sweet and clean and slumbersome - no room that might be stumbled upon by eight drunk engineering undergraduates for an impromtu de-bag and radishing session. And don't you dare put me in with a notorious snorer, you fucker!!! I know your tricks.

It worked. Every single party I went to from then on I got a bed in the inner sanctum boudoir. But I put my foot down too late because there was only one 21st left - and it was mine.

So I've decided to learn from my mistakes and get in early when it comes to aubergines. I've always salted aubergines and it's such a pain in the arse. I've never tried to skip this step because so many people (I'm talking about you, Delia) make out like if you don't do it, the whole world will collapse.

But I had my mind changed the other day by one of my favourite readers, Ian Brice. He scanned in and sent to me the recipe for an aubergine stew, with Mrs Brice's annotations, which clearly indicated that one was not to bother naffing about salting OR peeling the wrectched aubergines. So I decided to put my foot down that very day and henceforth never salt an aubergine again.

And it worked out just fine. I have changed the recipe slightly - it called for red wine, which I didn't have and garlic, which I willfully simply decided I didn't want in it, and I added mozarella on the top, because I'm just fucking crazy like that.

Provencal aubergine stew.
Serves 4 with a salad or bread or something.

3 aubergines
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 large onion
bay leaves, thyme, oregano, rosemary - or any combination of those you can get your hands on
1/2 bottle red or white wine
mozarella - about 2 cheeses
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar

1 Chop the onion and sautee gently in whatever pot you're going to do the whole thing in

2 Chop your aubergines into rounds, then heat up some olive oil to a medium temperature and start frying them off. They drink olive oil, aubergines. So don't worry to much about it, just ladle it on when you think the pan is becoming unacceptably dry. The aubergine rounds will be ready after about 5 minutes each side and they have taken on some colour and have started to collapse slightly.

3 Once the onion is soft-ish (about 10 minutes) throw in whatever herbs you've got and toss around a bit until you start to smell them. (I also at this stage added a chopped courgette and browned it - but you don't have to.) Then pour in a half or a third of a bottle of wine, turn the heat right up and let it bubble almost completely down to just a thin layer of liquid.

4 Add the tomatoes and then the aubergines once they've all been cooked off. Give the whole thing a stir and put on a very low heat for 45 minutes. After that time taste it then sprinkle over 1 large pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar (which takes the edge off the horrid sourness of tinned tomatoes). Add more salt if you think it needs it.

5 At this stage I layered on slices of mozarella, let them melt and then put the whole thing under the grill to brown. But you don't have to do this.

I actually haven't had any of this yet. I made it for my husband's dinner last night, while I went out and got drunk with my old friend Will. But Giles said it was delicious, and he wouldn't say that if he didn't mean it. I, meanwhile, now have a retro-hangover like it's 2001, with the additional burden of a full day of childcare.

 At least I got the best bed in the house last night. And I didn't have to salt any bloody aubergines.


  1. I love aubergine, I eat it A LOT, as a vegetarian I use it quite a lot as a mince substitute as I'm not a fan of vegemince.

    But anyway, I think with the whole salting business, and I have no idea if I'm right, but seems to be down to how long they are cooked for. I've never found one that has been baked or stewed for ages to be bitter and I guess the moisture cooks out, but sometimes when I grill them for sandwiches I get the odd one that I think I probably should have salted. But I still very rarely actually bother to do it.

  2. I once watched This Morning - don't judge me I had a chest infection, and Gino di-whatever-his-name-is gave a brilliant tip. Blanch aubergines for a minute or so and dry them before frying, then they don't need anywhere near as much oil. And a definate no to salting - never done that for years. They've somehow magically and wonderfully modified them to get the bitterness out.

  3. I never bother salting aubergines... modern varieties have been bred not to need it, I reckon. That's been the case for ones I've bought from supermarkets, small local grocers and the local Indian and Turkish shops.

    The only exception has been some I picked up in China Town last year, which were bloody horrid though who knows whether salting would have helped. The finished dish went into the bin!

  4. I am the same age as you, and although I didn't go to Bristol I associate the whole place with taking fistfuls of ecstasy tablets at a club* called Tribe of Frog. (Went there in a Marc Jacobs sweater once - very confusing).

    So I know what I'm talking about, and I've always assumed salting aubergines to be a ridiculous practical joke. Tried it once: bit SALTY. Skip it. Of course they're not bitter, they're frickin aubergines, i.e. top two in my top three all time vegetables.


  5. I found this hilarious because I am from Bristol and it was voted drug capital of Europe or some bullshit like that and the ONLY people in the whole city who aren't off their tits on coke are the Bristol uni students, which is ironic really. Anyway, you're the only person I've ever met (or virtually encountered) who went to Bristol uni and isn't a complete tosser.

  6. Big up the Bristol Uni peops! I don't think I could sound any more lame. Ah well. I went to Bristol uni (and did not smoke coke) and have my 10 year reunion in October, feeling old.

    Aubergines... I am yet to convert to them. I can have them in small doses. This week I bought babaganoush (or however you spell it) and it turned by stomach. Shame since aubergines are a great, substantial veg.

  7. I did try to post a comment on this straightaway, Esther, but the whole Blogger imbroglio was epi phenomenal. Anyway, this is just to say - albeit ungratefully belatedly - thank you so much for the name check. "One of my favourite readers": gosh! *blushes deeply* Mrs B and I can die happy now. x