Roasted eggplant with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme
I start looking for eggplant in late summer. Its deep purple skin is an unusual color in the world of fresh produce, as is the texture of the eggplant flesh.
Some cooks puzzle over what to do with the eggplant's seedy, blond interior, which can have a dense texture when roasted. Perhaps most famously, eggplant plays an important role in Ratatouille, but is also delicious when sliced and grilled with other summer vegetables.This recipe focuses on accenting the dense inner flesh of the eggplant with pungent, flavorful complementary ingredients.
Roasting and grilling are ideal cooking methods for eggplant since it chars well and takes on smoky notes without tasting burnt. The skin protects the inner flesh, collapsing as it slowly bakes. After an hour or more, the soft spicy eggplant spread can be smeared on a corn tortilla or piece of grilled bread.
If the idea of using whole garlic cloves is unappealing, reduce the amount of garlic by half and cut the cloves into thin slivers to insert in the flesh. A shower of Parmesan cheese or a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar are good options for finishing the spread.
MAKES 12 to 16 TORTILLAS OR TOASTS to serve 4 to 6 as an appetizer or side dish
1 large eggplant, cut in half
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 orange, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using a small paring knife, insert the tip into the cut side the eggplant, making four small holes in the flesh of each half. Put a garlic clove into each hole, pressing carefully to fully insert it into the eggplant flesh.
In a small bowl, make a paste with the paprika, cumin, lemon and orange juice and finely chopped zest, olive oil, cayenne pepper and salt. Lightly salt the skin of the eggplant and apply the paste, rubbing it generously onto the cut side of the eggplant halves. Press several thyme sprigs into the paste covering each eggplant half.
Arrange the eggplant halves paste side up on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake 1 hour, or until the skin collapses gives way to the soft inner flesh. Excess spice paste can be applied part way through the baking process. When the eggplant flesh is soft, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes
Place the eggplant halves on a platter with a spoon for scooping and serve the coarse spread with warm corn tortillas or pieces of grilled bread. I love to serve this spread as a shared course and allow guests to serve themselves.