Referring to Larousse Gastronomique, August Escoffier’s bible of French cuisine, can be both exhilarating and perplexing for a home cook like myself. It is so full of ideas that I’m often in awe at the array of variations suggested for a single ingredient.
I was looking for an idea of what to do with eggplant recently, so I headed to the aubergine section at the beginning of the book and began to study the ideas put forth: Aubergines au gratin à la catalane features halved eggplants filled with a mixture of hard-boiled egg, onion and breadcrumbs along with the chopped pulp from the center, while Aubergines Imam Baaldi uses the pulp with tomatoes, onions and currants. The list goes on for more than a page of type so tiny that it gave my tired eyes a strain.
I did find an idea I liked: Aubergines au gratin à la languedocienne, which uses sausage as a filling. I like anything with pork, but I had no idea what sausage from the Languedoc was; a Google search turned up a recipe that said it was essentially ground pork simply flavored with salt and pepper. But even though I had eggplant and pork on hand, I had no clear idea of what to do with these ingredients. That’s because Escoffier is a bit vague on things like cooking temperatures, measurements of ingredients, and the like. Even in the case of this recipe, the directions are just to fill the eggplant with sausage. It doesn’t say if the cook is to use the eggplant with it or not.
So, I took Escoffier’s idea and ran with it, creating a filling that combined pork and eggplant together with sautéed onion and garlic, the warm spice of cinnamon and the tiniest sprinkle of cayenne pepper. I added toasted pine nuts for a little crunch.
To finish it off, I included rehydrated porcini mushrooms to most of the mix, leaving it out of one portion for the friend who doesn’t eat them. To mark that eggplant half, I topped it with breadcrumbs, which I don’t eat.
After tasting the end result, I thought I might use an apple next time instead of the mushrooms. Or I might just head back to Escoffier and see where his suggestions will lead me then.
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste (can use cayenne)
Breadcrumbs, optional, for garnish
Parsley, for garnish
Several hours before cooking, pour water over the mushrooms, if using, in a non-reactive bowl. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, onion and garlic together over medium heat and cook until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.
In a second saucepan, cook the pork with a bit of salt over low heat. You don’t want the sausage to get dark brown, but you do want the meat to cook.
Meanwhile, wash the eggplants. Cut them in half lengthwise, leaving the top on, and scoop out the inner flesh, leaving a boat with about 1/2 inch of flesh inside the peel. Place the halves, scooped side up, in a casserole dish sprayed with cooking oil. Dice the eggplant. Add to the onions and garlic. You may have to add a little more olive oil, if the mixture is too dry.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
When the pork is finished cooking, drain it and reserve a little of the fat. Add the pork to the eggplant mixture and stir in. Add the pine nuts and the mushrooms, if using. Stir in cinnamon, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Cook for a couple more minutes, adding either a little of the reserved pork fat or mushroom water.
Fill the eggplant boats with the pork mixture. Garnish with breadcrumbs, if desired.
Bake for at least 30 minutes or until eggplant is soft.
Before serving, garnish with parsley.
NOTE: When you remove the eggplant from the casserole dish, it will be soft, so handle it with care.
Makes 6 main course servings.
From John Griffin