My foreboding with regards to my dear friend, Kate’s, 50th birthday girls’ weekend in Killcare with a crowd of high-achieving, Amazonian yummy mummies – for which the irony of one YM’s trepidation at the thought of cooking for a ‘food critic’ was brought into sharp relief by my subsequent ignominious hoovering of sharp cheese and Branston pickle – came to nought, as usual.
The payoff for being lumbered with gloom as your default setting is the near-hysterical joy at having a pretty bloody good time, actually.
And we had a pretty bloody good time, actually, each in our own way. As I expected, some ran and ocean-swam the length and breadth of the Central Coast and frolicked n the ice-cold horizon pool (albeit briefly – even their Amazonianity baulking at that intemperate temperature); others read the paper by the fire; some languished in bed with post-karaoke migraine; others walked all the way down to Hardys Bay in the pissing rain and almost had a heart attack walking back up the hill trying to keep up with somebody fit.
After open-heart surgery, I cooked dinner.
We wore fancy dress (of sorts – my foreboding had kicked in again when I was packing, so I played it safe with a caftan and played it dangerous with hair product – not good for reading the paper by the fire). There were nylon wigs and plastic frocks – also not so good with open flames – and a gen-yoo-ine Diane von Furstenberg.
Not the person, obviously. Though I’m sure she’s perfectly genuine, too.
Anyhoo. We got trashed quite early. Fortunately, I had spent the whole of the previous day at home ‘prepping’, as they like to say on MasterChef before they cut themselves and get blood in their lamb’s tongue and chipotle panna cottas. To this end, I had channelled former MasterChef Magazine colleagues Dame Sophia Young of the Order of the Large Plastic Container, and Lord Dominic Smith, Keeper of the Glad Wrap, and their highly professional (if anally retentive) approach to preparing for a food shoot. I arrived (rather smugly, it must be said) in Killcare armed to the teeth with marinated and chopped-up stuff, knives, tea towels, platters and poultry shears, and enough packaging to do a Christo wrap on Bouddi National Park.
And while it took a little longer than usual to actually assemble the feast, what with the caftan and being trashed and all (oddly, no one offered to help with any residual chopping, content merely to peep between splayed fingers as I diced with ginger and death), it went pretty much to plan. We ate like kings – and shrieked like queens.
It also resulted in the pomegranate molasses-fuelled invention of a potential trillion-dollar-turnover product perfectly targeted to cash in on Australia’s ageing population, requiring only comfy chairs. We’d named it, marketed it and come up with the spin-offs, all before my kitchen-buddy for the evening, Karn, stuck the sparklers in the birthday cake she’d made for dessert so casually, efficiently and swiftly that very afternoon – with an unfamiliar and very dodgy oven, and nary a plastic container in sight. Respect.
For now, this invention is under wraps – unlike Bouddi National Park, which remains blissfully unfettered by Alfoil. But the recipes aren’t, so, as promised, Kate, Susie, Linda, Shara, Karn, Amanda and Katie – here is the one that brought the house down. And thanks, Kate, for finally making it to the same decade as me – it really has felt like a bloody eternity.
Belinda Jeffery’s honey and harissa-glazed eggplant
This is from an ABC delicious. cookbook, World Menus, and it has now become my default recipe for eggplant (with none of the foreboding). It has even convinced the silver fox that aubergine is not the devil’s work. (Indeed, he refers to it affectionately as ‘twice-cooked pork belly without the pork’ – an accolade that will resonate with the arterially challenged among us.) I don’t bother with the sun-dried tomato pesto (a concept I find a little disturbing, for some reason), as it’s just as delicious with plain old tomato paste; and I usually ramp up the harissa ratio, too. I also sling the spices, harissa, honey, tomato pesto/paste, lemon juice and salt in a bowl and stir ’em together before chucking the lot in with the sizzling garlic and ginger. And, as is my wont, I am fairly lax about quantities, relying instead on tasting as I go (the blisters are finally healing).
750g eggplant (roughly 2 medium/large)
110ml extra-virgin olive oil
3 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons harissa
¼ cup honey
3 teaspoons sun-dried tomato pesto
1½ tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
1½ teaspoons sea salt, or more to taste
Coriander or mint leaves, to serve
Preheat your oven to 220C (fan-forced 200C). Line a large oven tray with baking paper.
Halve each eggplant across, then slice each half into 6-8 wedges, depending on the size of your vegies. Add the wedges to a large bowl with 90ml olive oil and use your hands to mix them together to coat them thoroughly. Spread them over the prepared oven tray in a single layer. I like to arrange them skin-side down first, so as much of the cut surfaces are being blasted as poss.
Roast the eggplant for 30 minutes or until deep golden, turning halfway through cooking.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over low heat. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and stir for 30 seconds, or, as they say in all the best circles, until fragrant. Stir in the spices, harissa, honey, tomato pesto, lemon juice and salt and cook for a minute or so, then turn off the heat.
When the eggplant wedges are cooked, reheat the honey mixture over low heat. Using tongs, carefully transfer the wedges to the honey mixture in a single layer. Cook them gently, carefully turning them once or twice, for 8 minutes or so until they have become soaked with the glaze (just keep an eye on them, as the honey scorches easily).
When the wedges are ready, turn off the heat and taste – add a little more lemon juice or salt it necessary. Using tongs once again, carefully pile the wedges into a shallow bowl or dish. Scrape any remaining glaze over the top. Sprinkle with coriander or mint leaves and serve warm or at room temperature.
This serves four as a side, apparently, so if you’re wise, you’ll make twice the quantity and have it cold the next day.