Eggplant Terrine, Panelle, Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes

 

This eggplant terrine is the very first recipe in Marc Vetri’s book “il Viaggio di Vetri” and it looked so intriguing from the moment I read it. I’ve never really made proper vegetable terrines before, plenty of meat terrines of course, but not a vegetarian layered and molded terrine that holds together beautifully. Vegetarian versions are lots of times held together with an aspic (gelatin) and if done right they could be fantastic. In contrast Vetri’s eggplant slices are held  together with a minimal amount of custard base (egg+milk+parmesan+thyme). I half expected the whole thing to fall apart as soon as I unmolded it honestly and that would’ve been a shame because of all the work that went into it.

First the eggplants are peeled and the peel blanched to be used for laying in the terrine mold in lieu of bacon or back fat in a meat terrine. I sliced the eggplant very thin and salted the slices. After draining for an hour or so they get washed, dried and pressed between paper towels. The eggplant then gets fried and layered in a terrine (I used a small loaf pan since I was only making half the recipe). Between each layer I drizzled a tablespoon or so of the uncooked custard. The pan gets cooked in a bain marie for about an hour. After it is cooked, I weighed the eggplant down in the pan to compress the terrine as it cooled in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve I unmolded the terrine and sliced it with a very sharp knife. An electric knife is probably very handy here. The funny thing is I actually have one but never seem to use it. Like I said before the eggplant terrine held together perfectly due to the egg mixture of course but also I’m guessing due to the eggplant’s natural “goo”. Is that pectin? Maybe.

Vetri served his version with a few tomatoes, arugula leaves and shavings of parmesan. I made Panelle instead. Panelle are a popular Sicilian street snack made from chickpea flour and fried in olive oil. I figured their earthy flavor and rustic texture will work very well with the eggplant. Afterall, chickpeas and eggplant are a wonderful match. The other flavor component are those little cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market called chocolate cherry tomatoes. They were quickly blanched, peeled and marinated in olive oil, salt and basil. I love how they look like peeled grapes or poached cherries…The green sauce is made from blanched arugula, basil and parsley. It is thickened with Ultratex-3 and enriched with a little olive oil and lemon juice.

I garnished the dish with basil flowers and basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The terrine was delicious with a full eggplant flavor and a very meaty texture. The chickpea fritters and tomatoes complemented everything perfectly. Instead of half a recipe I will be making the full one next time and will bake it in a proper terrine pan to get a perfect rectangle as well as more terrine for the next few days. The next day we used the leftovers to make the best eggplant sandwiches with some of the green sauce, arugula, ripe tomatoes on home-baked crusty sourdough bread.

VDP: Farinata (Socca)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Americanized name for this pie is Chickpea Pizza. However, I just posted about pizza. Real pizza. Farinata my friends is not pizza. It does not taste like pizza nor look like one. It has no cheese, no sauce and no topping. Farinata is more like a pancake, or crepe really. It is simple, rustic, Italian and French (where it is known as Socca. Click here for David Lebovitz’s account of the best Socca in Nice) and very delicious if you eat it within minutes of baking. After that it tastes like what I imagine soggy cardboard would taste.

Farinata originates from the Italian region of Liguria. It is a street food and locals are very passionate about it. The proper way to make it is to cook it in a special type of pan that makes a large thin pancake. In my home I’ve made it successfully in a baking sheet and, with better results, in my seasoned cast iron pan. Other than salt and pepper, all a Farinata needs is chickpea flour, water and olive oil. I used to have to go to a specialty ethnic store to buy the chickpea flour, now my local supermarket carries it in it’s Ethnic foods section, more specifically the Indian/Pakistani section. The flour is very powdery and has a heady smell of chickpeas. By adding water and olive oil to the flour, I made a very loose batter using the recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ “The Essential Mediterranean” as a guide. Following the recipe, I baked the pie (divided into two) in lightly oiled cast iron pans in a very hot oven. The Farinata a bit crispy on the edges and the bottom, but soft on the inside. It needs to be seasoned with a good hit of black pepper as soon as it comes out from the oven, sliced and eaten to be appreciated. I love this as is and ate most of it all by itself. I did make a tomatoey lentil stew as a supplement to the Farinata as well though.