Aubergines always brings back memories of my trips to Sicily. I spent most of my childhood summer holidays on the east coast of Sicily in the town where my Nonna was born – Giarre. We would spend our time down by the beach with our friends and family, soaking up the beautiful Sicilian sun with Mt Etna as our back garden. We always looked forward to eating our way through the delicious food the island had to offer, this included plenty of arancini, granita and melanzane, or aubergines.
There are plenty of different ways Sicilians use aubergines, including the famous Pasta alla Norma – this is a dish made with fresh tomato sauce, fried aubergine and topped with ricotta infornata (baked ricotta). It was always my go-to dish, so if you haven’t tried an authentic version, then I highly recommend you do when you next go to Sicily. Here’s one from our visit in 2011 at one of our favourite restaurants, La Tavernetta. Don’t worry, the aubergines are in there somewhere:
Another way aubergines were prepared were griddled on a barbecue and served as a contorno or side dish. They would be coated in a tangy, spicy, garlicky marinade and we could never get enough! The quality of the ingredients out there, not just in terms of the aubergines but the extra virgin olive oil and the dried chilli flakes was always out of this world. I managed to find a shot of a batch our friends prepared for us in 2012 on the barbecue – look at the charring on these:
So when I moved to Italy last September, my Mum had hundreds of aubergines from her orto and this was the first dish I tested out. Since then, I have tweaked and improved the recipe (and my photography skills). I would definitely recommend using a good quality extra virgin olive oil as it will really make a difference to the taste of the aubergines.
Also, don’t be scared about salting the aubergines, this is needed to extract any moisture that can ruin the texture of them when you griddle them. Just be sure to wipe all the liquid and salt off before you start cooking them. The longer you leave them the more moisture will come out. Another key thing is to not move the aubergines around too much on the griddle. You want to apply some pressure to get the griddle lines but if you move them too soon, they will stick to the griddle and fall apart and you won’t have the distinctive marks.
No doubt these will become a frequent part of your summer barbecues and your lunchtime salads.
Prep time: 5 minutes + 30 minutes salt bath Cook time: 30-40 minutes Total time: 45 minutes + 30 minutes salt bath
Ingredients 2 Aubergines, sliced 1/2cm circles Salt
Marinade 6 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 Tbsp White wine vinegar 2 Garlic cloves, minced 1 Tsp Chilli Flakes, optional Small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Spread the sliced aubergines out on some kitchen roll and liberally sprinkle salt over each slice. Place another layer of kitchen roll on top. The salt will help release water from the aubergines. Leave for minimum 30 minutes but ideally 1 hour before griddling.
Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and set aside to infuse.
Heat up a griddle pan or a barbecue until piping hot. Wipe off all the liquid and salt from the aubergines before placing them on the griddle, pressing down slightly. Leave for 3-5 minutes before flipping (depending on the thickness of the slices) so you get the griddle marks. Cook on the other side for a further 3 minutes and then remove to a plate.
Immediately cover both sides of each slice with the marinade using a pastry brush. If you have any marinade left over, pour this over all the slices.
Serve hot or cold!