January saw the long-awaited return of Ottolenghi club, our semi-regular potluck-style assault on Yotam's greatest hits. We had an empty day before the dinner, so I decided to take on something a bit more challenging than my usual fancy salad and dove head-first into these eggplant nests. These were an outstanding success - the choice dish in a meal loaded up with excellence and one that we made again before we even managed to get this blog post written. The crispy nests are wrapped around a smooth, smoky eggplant filling and served with a tangy and spicy dipping sauce - they're great straight out of the oven and nearly as good at room temperature.
The key ingredient is kataifi pastry - we found some at A1 Grocery on Sydney Road, and I imagine any decent Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food-store will come through for you. I've read that you can substitute shredded filo pastry, but I reckon you're better off making the effort to track this down - it's really worth it. Once you've got the pastry it's just a matter of working your way through the recipe - the roasting of the eggplants, capsicum, chilli and garlic stretches out over a few hours and the assembly of the little nests takes a bit of time, but the pay-off is really, really worth it. These will definitely be on our where's the best? list the next time we update it.
Eggplant kataifi nests
(adapted very slightly from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)
4 eggplants (about 1.2kg)
65g pecorino, roughly grated
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1 egg, beaten
80ml sunflower oil
340g packet kataifi pastry (thawed)
salt and pepper
capsicum & tomato salsa
1 medium capsicum
1 red chilli
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
200g crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
50ml olive oil
Preheat the oven to 250°C.
Pierce the eggplants a few times with a knife and lay them out on a baking tray. Roast them in the oven for 90 minutes, turning every 20 minutes or so to make sure they all get nice and blackened. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, before scooping out the flesh and leaving it to drain in a colander for half an hour.
While the eggplants are roasting you can get to work on the salsa. Put the capsicum, chilli and garlic on another oven tray and roast them in the oven for 10 minutes. Take the chilli and garlic out and turn the capsicum, roasting for another 20 minutes or so until its skin is all blistered. Remove the capsicum and pop it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap to cool (this makes the skin easier to peel off). Peel and deseed the capsicum and chilli and peel the garlic.
Pop the roasted capsicum, chilli and garlic into a small food processor and whizz to a paste. Add the vinegar, oil and about 1 teaspoon of salt and and the crushed tomatoes and whizz some more until you've got a smooth sauce.
Melt the ghee in a small saucepan and combine it with the sunflower oil.
Once all the veggies have been roasted drop the oven temperature down to 200°C and get ready to make the nests. First up, make the filling - mix the eggplant flesh together with the ricotta, pecorino, parsley, egg and generous amounts of salt and pepper.
Now it's time to build the nests! Lightly grease a baking tray - we started with a 30cm x 20cm tray but overflowed and had to use a small square tray as well. Pull out about 25g of the kataifi pastry (I weighed the first couple before I got into a rhythm). Stir a tablespoon of the butter mix into the pastry parcel and then spread it out on a cutting board until you have a rectangle about 15cm x 5cm. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the mix onto one end of the rectangle and then roll the pastry loosely around the filling.
Lay the rolled up pastry in the baking tray and then repeat - you can squish them up right against each other. Once you've made all the rolls, drizzle whatever oil/butter mix you have leftover on top and bake for 25-30 minutes until the tops go nice and golden.
Serve, with the sauce on the side.