Eggplant Clafoutis: I saw the reference in my blog reader and quickly went to find the recipe. Alas, while TS and JS at Eating Club Vancouver came up with the idea, they deemed their recipe “A. Weird. Failure.”
Though Eating Club hated their recipe, the more I thought about Eggplant Clafoutis, the more I wanted it. My craving was timely; I had an embarrassment of eggplant riches. A sack of eggplant sat in a cool corner of the kitchen (eggplant shouldn't be refrigerated) and the plants in our garden remain productive.
After two nights of falling asleep to thoughts of Eggplant Clafoutis, I broke down and made it.
Clafoutis (klah-foo-TEE) is a simple-to-make, country dessert from France, in which fruit is baked in a custardy batter. There are a million and one different clafoutis recipes. I’ve tried many of them, some wonderfully delicious and others only pretty darn good. The best clafoutis is light-textured and not too sweet, allowing the flavor of the fruit to shine.
I’ve never made or tasted savory clafoutis before, and couldn’t find an actual Eggplant Clafoutis recipe. Instead of a recipe, I used basic principles of sweet clafoutis-making for my savory version. The first step was deciding how best to pre-cook the eggplant (Eating Club used uncooked eggplant, which they deemed a mistake). Because I planned on serving this dish as a light lunch, I didn’t want it to be oily.
As eggplant cooks know all too well, it soaks up oil like a sponge. This is because eggplant flesh has many tiny air pockets just waiting to fill up with oil. According to Harold McGee, America’s preeminent food scientist, “the absorptiveness of eggplant can be reduced by collapsing its spongy structure before frying. This is accomplished by precooking it – microwave works well – or by salting slices to draw out moisture from the cells and into the air pockets.” On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2nd Rev. Ed.), Harold McGee, 2004. Based on personal experience, I agree with McGee that salting reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, eggplant’s sponge-like qualities.
While we’re on the subject of salting, some people recommend pre-salting eggplant to draw out its juices before cooking to remove alleged bitterness. Over the years, I’ve done repeated side-by-side tastings of salted and unsalted eggplant and have never detected bitterness in either version. It may be the bitterness meme is a holdover from days when eggplant was more bitter than it is today (McGee: “Farmers and plant breeders have worked for thousands of years to reduce the bitterness of … eggplants…”).
McGee says modern eggplants can turn bitter when they’re grown in dry conditions, which North American supermarket eggplants are not. Interestingly, McGee says salting doesn’t actually eliminate bitterness, but may reduce “our perception of the alkaloids” thus “suppress[ing] the sensation of bitterness.”
In any case, I rarely bother with pre-salting eggplant. The best ways to avoid oily eggplant are to “steam-fry,” oven-roast, or grill it. I use steam-frying for eggplant chunks, oven-roasting at high temperature for slices, and grilling whenever we have a fire going. To steam-fry, eggplant is briefly sautéed, which helps develop its flavor, and then steamed in a covered pan until the eggplant is fully cooked. I like letting steam-fried eggplant char a little as it cooks, the smokiness adds wonderful flavor to the finished dish.
Since I wanted chunked eggplant in the clafoutis, I steam-fried it. This worked well; it brought out eggplant’s subtle flavors that are sometimes masked by too much oil or tomato sauce. After spreading the cooked eggplant over the bottom of a springform pan, I topped it with cheese, sautéed onions, and a batter flavored with basil and garlic.
The finished dish was full of flavor, and slices of it, paired with a tomato and onion salad, made a delicious, warm from the oven, lunch. The next day I served Eggplant Clafoutis cold, cut into diamonds, as part of an appetizer table (mezedes – μεζέδες) and it disappeared quickly. Like its sweet siblings, savory clafoutis is equally good served warm or at room temperature.
This recipe for Eggplant Clafoutis was “A. Great. Success.” Many thanks to Eating Club Vancouver for the inspiration.
Eggplant Clafoutis (Κλαφουτί με Μελιτζάνες)
Serves 4 – 6 as a main course or 12 – 16 as an appetizer
1 pound eggplant, peel left on and cut into 1” chunks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated graviera, kasseri, or asiago cheese
2 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup strained yogurt
3 tbsp. minced fresh basil or mint
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Steam-Fry the Eggplant: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the eggplant chunks, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and quickly stir the eggplant to brown it. When the eggplant starts sticking to the pan add 1/4 cup of water, stir to distribute, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to medium high. Let the eggplant steam until you can hear it sizzling (which means all the water has cooked off). Add 2 Tbsp. of water, stir to distribute, and cover the pan. Repeat until the eggplant is just cooked through. If the eggplant chars a little in between doses of water, all the better; the char adds good flavor to the finished dish.
Make the Clafoutis: Grease the bottom and sides of a 9” round springform pan or 9”x9” square pan (if you want to serve the clafoutis upside down, in addition to greasing the pan, line the bottom with greased waxed or parchment paper. Arrange the cooked eggplant on the bottom. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the eggplant.
Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the red pepper flakes, if using, and cook for one minute. Evenly distribute the onion over the grated cheese.
Sift the flour and whisk in 1/4 tsp. salt. Whisk in 1 cup milk, yogurt, basil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Whisk in the eggs and remaining milk, and continue to whisk until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter over the ingredients in the pan.
Put the clafoutis on the preheated oven’s center rack. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the clafoutis is puffed up and golden on top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Zorra from Kochtopf.
Saturday, September 20, 2008