Seabass & Aubergine

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TECHNIQUES NEEDED:
Grilled Aubergines

INGREDIENTS (4 people)
4 sea bass fillets (150 – 200g each)
800 g aubergines
Smoked Salt
Sea salt
20 cherry tomatoes on the vine
Sun-dried Tomatoes, 2 halves, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive oil (to drizzle)
Chives (or parsley), finely chopped
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If I was told that I can eat only one type of fish for the next 12 months, I would definitely go for sea bass. If fresh and cooked properly is tender and pleasantly moist, and its subtle, delicate flavour makes it extremely versatile as it will work with virtually any accompaniment.

This recipe uses grilled aubergines and roast cherry tomatoes, and these flavours work just beautifully together.

AUBERGINES
Peel (optional) and slice them 1/2 cm thick, purge, pat dry, brush with oil and grill (see Grilled Aubergines for details):.

When they cool down and can be handled, cut the aubergines in small cubes
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and gently cook the minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and anchovy fillets, being very careful not to brown the garlic
When the anchovy has dissolved into the oil, add the aubergine and sauté for 3 minutes

ROAST CHERRY TOMATOES:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Wash the tomatoes an place in a roasting tin, lined with baking parchment
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of Sherry vinegar, sprinkle with salt
  4. Cook in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the skin starts blistering

SEA BASS FILLETS:

  1. Check with your finger for any pin bones and remove them with tweezers if it’s the case
  2. With a sharp knife, make shallow incisions on the skin, about 1/2 cm apart from each other. Pinch the fillet between the thumb and index as shown below, it will make it easier:
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  3. Sprinkle with smoked salt, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes
  4. Heat 3 tbsp. of oil in a large skillet, pat the fillets dry on both sides and place the fillets, skin side down, on the pan.
  5. The heat will make the skin retract and the fillet curve: press the fillets down with a spoon or a fish slice until they can hold the shape. NOTE: It’s very important that there is direct contact between the skin and the pan, because you want the fillets to cook quickly and the skin to get crispy. If you are making more than one fillet, you can place a weight on top of it. I use a ramekin in the picture below:
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  6. Cook on high heat until the upper side is almost white
  7. Turn them and cook the other side for 30 seconds

To serve, make a bed of aubergines and place the fillet, skin side up, on top of it, with the roasted tomatoes, on the side; drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped chives (or parsley)

Mock Sausage Rolls

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Sausage roll, for the non-British readers, is a typical British savoury dish/snack, made out of sausage meat wrapped in puff pastry.

I am a big fan of puff pastry (although I have it seldom and in moderation due to its high fat content), and I love something soft or tender wrapped in crispy, flaky pastry – a Wellington or a Pithivier are prime examples of this.

Once I was taught by a chef how to make a sausage roll by wrapping spiced pork meat in puff pastry; I loved that technique and the appearance of the dish, but not so much the flavour, so I started to think how I could make a version that would suit my taste.

This is how I came up with the idea of Mock Sausage Rolls, which is simply something that looks exactly like a sausage roll but with a different filling; no need to say that the possibilities are endless and you can use any ingredient or combination of ingredients you like; here I use mushrooms and aubergines, which is one of my favs, with the addition of Parmesan and Parma ham.
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INGREDIENTS (make 8-10 rolls)

500 g ready-made puff pastry
200 g Parma Ham
1 kg Aubergine
300 g closed cup mushrooms
2 garlic cloves
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil (optional)
50 g Parmesan cheese
30 g Breadcrumbs
2 eggs
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  1. First, make the filling:
    For the aubergines (see: Grilled Aubergines ):
    Slice and purge the aubergines
    Pat them dry, brush with oil and grill
    For the mushrooms (see: Sauteed Mushrooms ):
    Slice the mushrooms; Sautee them in olive oil with minced garlic and salt
  2. When the mushrooms and the aubergines have cooled down, mince them with a knife, or pulse them in a food processor until coarsely chopped (along with the sundried tomato, if using it). IMPORTANT:  you don’t want to make them too liquid, otherwise the filling will not hold its shape
  3. In a bowl, mix this paste with the Parmesan, breadcrumbs and 1 egg plus 1 egg white – you will need to keep the other yolk for your egg wash (see points 11-12-13)
  4. Roll out the puff pastry. You can buy the ready-rolled one but I find it too thick and difficult to work with, so I normally buy a block and roll out the quantity I need to the thickness of a 1 Pound coin (about 3 mm)
  5. Trim the edges of the pastry sheet to give it a regular shape and line the middle with the Parma ham slices, making them overlap slightly
  6. Arrange the mix on top of the ham, giving it the shape of a sausage
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  7. Wrap the mix with the Parma ham, it will make it easier to roll the pastry
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  8. Brush the edges of the pastry sheet with water
  9. Roll the pastry around the filling, pressing lightly to seal it
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  10. Keeping the seam side down, score the upper side of the roll to give it a proper sausage roll appearance
  11. Using a sharp knife, cut the individual rolls, making sure they are all of the same size
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  12. Make the egg wash by beating the spare yolk with 1 tbsp. of water
  13. Brush the pastry with egg wash and refrigerate until ready to bake or at least for 15 minutes NOTE: refrigerating the puff pastry will help it rise
  14. When ready to bake brush for the second time with egg wash. NOTE: it is the egg wash that gives puff pastry the nice brown colour you normally see, it’s not the pastry itself, which otherwise will stay pale and whitish, and not very attractive
  15. Bake at 180 C for 20 minutes or until golden brown and risen

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Aubergine bake)

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Melanzane alla Parmigiana is an aubergine bake very popular in Italy.Its main ingredients are aubergines, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan.
The standard recipe requires deep fried aubergines – in some parts of Italy aubergines are even coated in beaten egg before being deep fried, resulting in a very tasty dish but also a calory bomb.
I will show here a lighter version of it that uses grilled aubergines instead; furthermore, you can reduce the quantity of mozzarella or even make it without (even if I do not recommend it); you should not eliminate the parmesan though since, like the name suggests, it is what really gives character to this dish.
NOTE: I am describing the process like we are doing it from beginning to the end at once. If you have enough time or can plan in advance, you can also prepare the grilled aubergines and the tomato sauce beforehand and put everything together and bake later.
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Ingredients:

For the Sauce (see also Tomato Sauce  in Basics):

2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
4 cloves Garlic
Peeled Tomatoes
Basil (about 20 lieaves, or to taste)
Salt & Sugar

For the grilled aubergines (see also Grilled Aubergines in Basics):
1 kg Aubergines
Olive oil, to brish
Salt

250 g Mozzarella, grated
200g Parmesan or Grana cheese, grated
Breadcrumbs (optional), to sprinkle

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First, slice the aubergines, rub them with salt and put them in a colander to purge (see Grilled Aubergines)
Then, make the Tomato Sauce, as in Basic but adding the shredded basil leaves at the end:
Sweat the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute
Add the blended tomatoes, using a fine sieve
Add water
Simmer for 60 minutes
Towards the end, add the basil
Add Salt & sugar

While the sauce is simmering, grill the aubergines:

Pat them dry
Brush with oil on one side
Place in a very hot pan, oiled side down
Brush the upped side with more oil
When the first side is nicely coloured, turn them to cook the other one

When both the sauce and the grilled aubergines are ready, put the ingredients together in the baking tray:
Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of the tray
Make a layer of grilled aubergines, making sure they slightly overlap each other
Cover with more tomato sauce
Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Repeat the operation, making more layers until you use all the ingredients
If you like, sprinkle some breadcrumbs on the top
Bake at 180C for 30 minutes or until the top is nice and crispy.

Rest for at least 30 minutes before serving – this dish is actually better if you let it cool down completely and then reheat it

Grilled Aubergines

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Aubergine (or eggplant) is widely used in Mediterranean cooking and, if cooked properly, will bring a very nice character to your dish.
There are many different types of aubergines, as they can differ in colour (black and purple and even white), shape (from round to more oblong) and size. In the UK you will find mainly the black oblong ones, which also happen to be my favourite.
The first very important thing to consider is that you will need to purge your aubergines (unless they are extremely fresh, but that’s very unlikely when you buy them in a supermarket): to do that, slice them and rub each slice with salt, only on one side, and put them in a colander for 30 minutes.

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Place the colander in a bowl as they will release some liquid. After that time, you will see a brown liquid at the bottom of the bowl: it is all water that otherwise would make your cooked aubergines soggy and this process will also enhance the flavour, making the aubergines sweeter.

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This is the treatment needed before cooking.

Many recipes call for deep fried aubergines (pasta alla Norma and melanzane alla parmigiana just to mention two of my favs) but, since I don’t like deep frying, I tried to find an alternative that was healthier and also less messy without compromising on flavour, and that’s why I started to look for other ways to do it.
Initially I tried with shallow frying instead of deep frying, but the problem is that aubergines absorb a lot of oil and you will end up with a fairly fatty result anyway, even if probably not as bad as deep frying.
After that I tried drizzling them with olive oil and cook them in a dry hot pan; however, for the same reason (aubergines absorb the oil very quickly), the results are not consistent, as each slice will have dry parts and parts that have absorbed all the oil.
This is not a secondary problem as the oil (or fats in general) plays a key role in the cooking process, and your aubergine will not get the right colour and, most importantly, the right flavour.
Therefore, in order to distribute the oil evenly, making sure that the process is optimised and, by the same token, we do not use too much fat, I started brushing them with oil using a pastry brush (after patting them dry): the result was just what I was looking for.
I suggest you buy a silicon brush if you don’t have one as the traditional ones are very hard to clean after use.

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To sum up, if you want to have healthy aubergines without compromising on flavour, follow these steps:
1. Slice the aubergines; size, in cooking, matters: this technique works well if the slices are not too thick, I would say as thin as you can but not thicker thicker than 6-7 mm; I suggest that you use a mandolin if you have one
2. Rub them with salt; giving the exact quantity here is almost impossible, just bear in mind that should be enough to draw the water out but not too much otherwise the aubergines will be too salty; the quantity of salt depends also on how thick your slices are; use your common sense and experience and don’t get frustrated if you get it wrong the first time: it’s all part of the learning process
3. Place them in a colander and leave them to purge for 30 minutes
4. Pat them dry and brush them with olive oil on one side
5. Place them in a very hot pan, oiled side down and brush the upper side with more oil
6. When the first side is nicely coloured, turn them to cook the other side

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