Aubergine, eggplant, melanzane: they sound good in any language and, in my opinion, taste even better. These have been my favourite vegetables since I was a child and my mother used to prepare melanzane al funghetto alla veneziana, a kind of cold salad of marinated aubergine. Heaven. Italy is the largest european producer of aubergine and produces more than the whole of the USA. Another reason why it plays such a large role in Italian cuisine. And it’s in season all throughout the summer.
In the past I’ve met a lot of people who dislike aubergine. When I’ve quizzed them as to why, they’ve described it as a bitter, tasteless vegetable which can be a bit rubbery and I’ve recognized this as aubergines which have been badly cooked. In my aubergine cooking experience there is a tipping point at which what can be quite a tough, bitter vegetable turns into a soft mush with mouth-puckering back notes of mature cheese. The secret is knowing how to cook it, which using certain methods can take a lot longer than you think. In many southern Italian dishes, where as a friend recently reminded me aubergine is considered ‘the queen of vegetables’ (la regina della verdura) aubergines are deep fried before being incorporated into whatever dishes they are required for such as parmigiana or pasta alla norma.
During a recent conversation with the same Italian friend we discovered a shared love of aubergine and so I decided to develop an aubergine dish especially for him, which is why it bears his name: melanzane di Mauro. This dish has many of the flavours of southern Italian cooking: aubergine, scamorza cheese, capers and olives. It’s a dish that can be served hot, but is better lukewarm, at summer room temperature and ideal for summer evening dining.
So here is the recipe. Buon appetito!
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Melanzane di Mauro
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Tota time: 35 miniutes
For the rotoli:
8 slices of prosciutto di parma
8 sun-dried tomatoes
100g (3 1/2 ounces) scamorza cheese
For the sauce:
8 plum tomatoes
1 white onion
1 glass red wine
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons black olives
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon aceto balsamico di Modena
Make the rotoli:
- Using a mandolin, cut 8 long thin slices of aubergine.
- Deep fry the aubergine for about 5 minutes and then leave to cool.
- Cut the leek down the middle and then divide it into layers. Cut 8 layers to the same size as the slices of aubergine.
- Salt each slice of aubergine and then place a layer of leek on top.
- Cut the scamorza into eight batons.
- Cover the leek with a slice of prosciutto di parma and then place a sun-dried tomato and a baton of scamorza on each slice. Roll the aubergine up to create a parcel and then place a toothpick through the middle to hold it together.
- Heat the oven to 180°C. Put the aubergine parcels into an oven dish and cook for about 25 minutes. Leave to cool.
Make the sauce:
- Put the tomatoes in a liquidizer and blend until they form a pulp.
- Chop the onion finely.
- Heat the oil in a pan and then gently cook the onion until transparent, about five minutes.
- Add the tomato pulp, red wine, capers, and olives.
- Bring to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes,
- Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar and then continue to simmer for about five to ten minutes.
- Place the rotoli in a plate, and remove the cocktail sticks.
- Drizzle a little of the sauce over the top. Serve with boiled potatoes or salad.