Aubergine and Herbed Cream (with a Fanfare of Simon Hopkinson)
I am currently in the midst of really reading Simon Hopkinson. Over the years I’ve read all his cookbooks, but in that cursory glancing way (probably, I fear, only focusing on those that seemed to be strictly vegetarian). Now I am reading everything: cover to cover. I am ankle deep in the details of cooking offal. I have no desire to cook offal, but that’s not a problem. Here are a few things that I love him for:
1) His love of food. He loves cooking and eating equally, it seems, and has done since an early age. He associate it with memories, places, friends and family. I suspect that he spends almost every waking moment engaging with it in some fashion.
2) Speaking of friends and family: he is constantly lauding the effect of his parents, his early mentors and the many fantastic chefs from whom he has learnt. As such, a book by Richard Olney arrived for me today and I am greatly look forward to reading it.
3) His writing style is so, so pleasing. I would read his books even if they contained no recipes. I’d probably read them if the content relayed a history of toy trains.
4) This man loves meat. Really and truly, every part of the animal has been covered in his repetoire. Entire sections are given to brains, kidneys, pigeon and, hilariously “pork pieces and bacon bits”. However, he speaks with equal passions of pea risotto, potatoes, tomatoes and, here I really agree with him, the unrivalled bliss of well cooked aubergine. He even has a book of vegetarian dishes (though, rather funnily, one of my least loved by him!)
5) He uses such well-thought out techniques. Reading him allows one to pick up tips and methods that I suspect most people need many years of old-fashioned French tutelage to gather.
6) He’s also useless at baking (well, he says he is). Hurrah!
I think his wonderful writing style is to be displayed in the anecdote he divulges as an introduction to “Baked Aubergine with Tomato, Onions, Garlic and Olive Oil” in Gammon and Spinach (MacMillan 1998):
"In my many years in the restaurant trade, I have found it to be the case that a small minority of vegetarian folk, radical in thier beliefs, are often those that it seems fail to appreciate dishes on the menu that are specifically made with vegetables in mind rather than them; the dish prepared simply as something good to eat. It has not, how shall one say, been fashioned with a ‘theme’ in mind. Moreover, it has been cooked or assembled because it is a good idea. The following story is not a dig, but a happy and amusing tale of restaurant life.
Several years ago now, the personable, steadfast and upright Mr Graham Williams (then maître d’, now head honcho of Bibendum) took the order of a particular American lady who was, it transpired, a vegan. G.W. went through the whole card with her, explaining all the dishes so she would know what she could, and could not, eat. The lady finally went for the Piedmontese peppers - roasted peppers with tomato, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Quite correctly, and with deference, she asked that the peppers might be unadorned by the anchovy fillets. ‘Of course, madam,’ the charming G.W. replied.
So off he sped to the kitchen to dispatch the order, where, promptly, the dish was swiftly assembled, complete with salty brown slivers, and placed before the vegan from Virginia (or was it Vegas?). ‘Forgive, forgive,’ muttered G.W., suddenly seeing the offending anchovies just that brief moment too late.
Back in the kitchen. ‘I told you not to put bloody anchovies on it! Why can’t you just listen for once!’ he bawled quite rightly at the cold started chef, or some similar words to that effect …Si we picked off the fishy bits and sent the plate back to the dining room.
'Erm… did you, by any chance, just remove the anchovies and give it back to me?' the lady asked. 'Erm… yes, we did do just that,' G.W. whimpered, honestly. 'Well, I'm sorry, but I can't eat it. I'll have the risotto with white truffles instead.' - one of the other possible vegetarian choices on our lenghty menu of internaitonal cuisine. 'But, madam,' G.W. shrieked, 'you can't possibly have that! The truffles have been on the end of a pig's nose!'
Here is a really nice little vegetable dish for everyone to enjoy.”
(p219-20 Gammon and Spinach, Simon Hopkinson, Pan Books, 2001)
Just because Hopkinson enjoys a pig’s snout does not mean that vegans and vegetarians cannot enjoy his fantastic back-catalogue. Many plant-powered peeps could indeed do with a dose of reason at times too … (preparing myself for some nasty emails there).
Anyway, he makes reference to aubergines with herbed cream at some point along the way. This is my really quite different version of it.
- Serves three, as a light lunch -
3 blocks of frozen spinach
A very good quality can of tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
half an onion, finely diced
a glug of white wine
An aubergine, in thin rounds
2 big splashed of rapeseed oil (the Lakeshore golden elixir variety, not the dreaded American Canola shite that looks like well-hydrated piss)
3 tbs cashew cream
handful each of basil, parsely, chives
1/2 cup almond milk
salt and pepper
Put a splash of oil in a frying pan. Rub it about with a piece of kitchen paper to ensure it’s sheening but not greasy. In batches, fry off the rounds, flipping when browned.
Meanwhile, dump the onions and spinach in another pan. The water from the defrosting spinach should keep the onions from sticking. When it is defrosted, add the tomatoes, garlic, wine and seasoning. Allow to simmer, covered for about 20 minutes (until you’re finished with the aubergine, realistically).
Chop all the herbs finely, add to the cream and milk. Stir until well combined. It should be the thickness of regular pouring cream. Adjust if it isn’t.
In a small baking dish, assemble the spinach and tomato first, then layer the aubergine rounds on top. Sprinkle with the second splash of rapeseed oil and salt and pepper. Pour over the herbed cream and bake in an oven at 200 degrees celsius for about 40 minutes. The tomato should begin to bubble up the sides and the lid should be golden.
Serve with rocket dressed with balsamic vinegar, some fresh bread and a glass of the white wine.
hummus and spuds