During my years of infectious vegetarianism, aubergines were a consistent staple food whenever I ate with Italian relatives. Cheap and highly absorbent of flavour, they are a vital antidote to the copious barrage of spiced grease typically accompanying them in southern cooking.
Most importantly, they are the most significant of a few additional ingredients necessary to transform the bland tomato sauce (endemic to halls of residence) into something delicious. So, invest in some aubergines and sample the flavours of Sicily without having to spend on meat, seafood, or even a nonna from the dark web!
Ingredients (serves two)
- One large aubergine
- One large red onion
- Two garlic cloves
- Two small chillies
- Two decent sized plum/vine tomatoes
- One can of crushed tomatoes
- Black pepper
- Sumac (optional)
- Salted ricotta (optional)
- First, you’ll need to wash the aubergines. Remove the ends and half them lengthways, then half them again and slice them into quartered discs. Feel free to use halved discs, but I would advise allowing the sauce to simmer longer in this case or the aubergines are cumbersome to eat with pasta.
- Having chopped the aubergines, I add salt and set them aside for at least twenty minutes to drain some moisture. This time is best spent preparing ingredients for the soffritto. Dice the onion, garlic, and chilli before repeating with the fresh tomatoes and keeping these separate.
- The aubergines should be oozing indeterminate moisture by this point, so I like to give them a nice pat down with a tea towel. Black pepper and paprika are added, and they are added to a pan of olive oil to fry with regular stirring. Recently, I have been adding sumac with the other spices, and I believe this makes a strong argument in favour of Mediterranean fusion cuisine. Just remember that this is brazenly inauthentic and entirely optional. Presenting this variation to a relative may result in a citizen’s arrest.
- After the aubergines darken in colour after ten or so minutes, set them to one side and add the onions, garlic, and chilli. You may wish to add a tad more oil at this point, as the aubergines will have absorbed much of it. I also tend to add salt, black pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar to the aromatics as they sauté.
- When the diced vegetables start to brown, mix in the chopped tomatoes until the soffritto acquires a somewhat liquid texture. This is the best time to introduce the tinned tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and add more salt, pepper, sugar, the rest of the spices, and a parmesan rind. The sauce should simmer for at least half an hour to an hour to deepen the flavour and further soften the aubergines.
- Serve with spaghetti cooked al dente and grated parmesan (or salted ricotta for the Sicilians).