Rena's Greek Aubergine in Tomato Sauce
I learned this dish from my friend Rena at her summer house on the island of Zia. It has become my favorite way of preparing eggplants, which Rena insisted on calling by the French name, Aubergine---much more appetizing with that name she argued. I think I concur.
This dish is extremely versatile. You can serve it as a side dish for lamb or chicken, or toss with some pasta. It's even good on its own with crusty bread. It even gets better on the second day, and can be kept for a week in the fridge.
5-6 medium size aubergines
1.5 pounds tomatoes, or 1 1/2 12oz-cans of tomatoes
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups olive oil---this will suffice, but more will taste better. (I often use more, but then Benjamin once said I used obscene amount of oil. You be the judge.)
salt and pepper to taste
4 sprigs of thyme
Mise en place:
1. cut the aubergines cross-wise into about 2-inch chunks
2. If using fresh tomatoes, peel, seed and cut into small chunks
3. finely chop the onion
2. mince the garlic
Now you make the dish:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. It will be better to use a pan with at least 3-inch high side with a lid. Make sure your pan is hot before you add the oil otherwise the aubergine will stick.
2. Brown both sides of the aubergine pieces in the hot oil, do this in small batches so as not to break up the chunks. If you oil is very hot, the aubergine will not soak up that much oil. Add more oil to the pan if it runs low between batches. Keep the browned aubergine pieces on a large plate and salt them slightly. Don't try to drain the oil away, olive oil is good for you!
3. After all the pieces are brown, lower the heat a bit and add the chopped onion into the pan. Cook the onion until translucent and a little caramelized, then add the minced garlic.
4. Add the tomatoes into the pan, throw in the thyme, turn up the heat and wait until the tomato sauce is nice and bubbly, then arrange the aubergine pieces back on the pan. Spoon some sauce over the aubergine, taking care not to break up the pieces. Add 1/2 cup of water or stock if the tomato sauce seems too dry.
5. Cover the pan, lower the heat and let simmer for at least one hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't forget to fish the thyme stems out before you serve.
Voila, close your eyes and you will be transported to a sunny greek island.
note on the aubergines:
I find that the long japanese eggplants most closely resemble the aubergines we used in Greece. The giant, fat eggplants will make just as tasty a dish but will disintegrate into a mushy sauce rather than staying in beautiful browned pieces.