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This is my take on a classic Italian dish, but using local ingredients that make this dish sing with seasonality and flavour.
Stuffed eggplant with curds
1 large eggplant/aubergine
12 basil leaves
150g fresh curds (Evansdale) or mozzarella
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
|100g panko or breadcrumbs
200ml oil for frying (approximately)
Fresh tomato sauce
4 large fresh tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
4 basil leaves and stalk (if possible)
1 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
20g butter or 1 Tbsp oil
Begin by making the fresh tomato sauce.
Remove the eye (the green core) with a small sharp knife and cut a small cross lightly through the skin on the other end. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Place them in a heat-proof bowl and pour over boiling water. Let the tomatoes sit for a couple of minutes or until you see the skin crack. Remove immediately from water and peel skin. Cut tomatoes into rough chunks and set aside.
In a medium-size saucepan, add butter or oil and warm up, add the tomatoes and garlic, and cook over a moderate heat until the tomatoes soften. Add the sugar, vinegar and the four basil leaves and stalk. Lower the temperature so the mixture gently bubbles and the liquid reduces. Preheat the oven to 190degC.
Meanwhile, prepare the eggplant by using either a sharp long knife or a serrated knife. Slice the eggplant lengthways by starting at one side and cut a slice 5mm thick, but only cut this slice two thirds the way through. Then cut another slice 5mm thick but cut all the way through so that you have two slices of eggplant still connected. This will make sense when you fill them, as you want the cheese to fit in the pocket you have made.
Repeat this technique of slicing the eggplant so you get four individual eggplant sandwiches.
Season the eggplant inside and out with a little salt and pepper, place one basil leaf in the cavity and sprinkle over a little curd or cheese. Don't put too much in, as it will melt and ooze out when cooking. Set aside.
Add the eggs to a dish that will also take the eggplant slices. In another dish of a similar size place the breadcrumbs.
Place a heavy-based large frypan on a moderate heat, add the oil and warm up. Dip the eggplant into the egg mixture and coat all over. Drain off excess egg and place the eggplant into the breadcrumbs and coat well; press down a little to ensure the eggplant is well coated. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
Cook the eggplant sandwiches in the oil. It is better to do this in batches. You don't want the oil to get too hot or the crumbs will cook before the eggplant and you don't want it too cool or it will soak up the oil like a sponge. Once you have a nice golden colour on one side, turn carefully and cook this side until golden. Remove carefully and place on greaseproof paper-lined baking tray. Cook the eggplant until the flesh feels soft and the cheese is gooey.
Finish off the tomato sauce by tasting and adjusting if necessary. Serve the eggplant hot with a generous spoonful of fresh tomato sauce and a few fresh basil leaves torn over.
• Alison Lambert, chef at the Otago Farmers Market, will be demonstrating this recipe at the market on Saturday morning.