Eggplant jalousie (and nut-roasted eggplant)

Eggplant jalousie

There are two quotes about photographer Eugene Atget that I particularly love. The first: After his death, the doctor asked his neighbors what he had died of. They replied, “He was an eccentric.” The second: “Atget never realized that he was Atget.” He never understood (or didn’t care to understand) the weighty place he occupied in the history of photography, or the influence he had on other photographers. He didn’t think of himself as an artist. He didn’t care for artistic movements and labels. He saw his job as utilitarian. He documented the world around him, and created photos of objects that painters could use as a resource. He lived from 1857 to 1927, and he documented the streets and homes of Paris. He photographed shops and alleys, he photographed staircases and parks and monuments and trees. His subjects were the ordinary, everyday haunts of Parisians: wig stores and litter-cluttered alleys, dingy rooms and the spaces in back of restaurants. His photographs are hauntingly beautiful. They’re beautifully focused and composed; beautifully light and dark. Because his purpose was to photograph a thing, or a place, the movements of the people in the space didn’t concern him. As a result people and animals become a ghostly blur – a transitory spirit biding time in the solid iron and stone buildings. I find Atget’s photos wonderfully cinematic and inspiring, and I could pore over them for hours, looking for the stories behind the facades.

Similarly, you could glance at this eggplant jalousie and look deep into its slanted “windows” to find the lovely nutty-roasted eggplant. (Segue!) This version of eggplant is a slight variation on my eggplant anyone can love. I chopped it thinner and smaller, and rather than dip each piece in egg, I stirred the egg right in. And then I added a coating of chopped nuts. I used pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. And then I roasted it in olive oil till lovely and crispy. The first night we ate this with grilled vegetables and a sauce made of capers and pine nuts. (Still perfecting that one, I’ll tell you about it later!) The next night, I made a rough puff pastry, and I stuffed it with these eggplants and with a smoked paprika, ricotta, fresh basil custard. It was delicious! Nutty, crispy, creamy, yum.

Nutty roasted eggplant

Here’s Nina Simone’s I Can’t See Nobody, because it’s killing me right now, and because it could describe Atget’s view of the buildings in his photos!

ROUGH PUFF PASTRY, made like this…

2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
black pepper
10 T butter, frozen (1 stick plus two tablespoons)
ice water

Combine the flour, salt and pepper. Grate in 8 T of frozen butter. Mix it very lightly – you don’t want to incorporate it completely, you want it to still be a bit piece-y. Add just enough ice water to bring it into a ball. Wrap it in foil, and put it in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour. Take it out, lightly flour your counter, and roll the dough into an oblong about 1/4 inch thick. Grate about 1 T of frozen butter in the center. Fold one edge to the center, and the other edge over that. Turn the dough so you’re looking at it vertically. Roll it to be about 1/4 inch thick again, and fold it up like an envelope. Wrap in foil and return to the fridge while you go about your business. Sometime later, repeat the process of rolling it out twice and grating some butter in. Then return it to the fridge to chill till you’re ready to use it. When you’re ready to go, break it into two pieces, and roll each into rectangles about 6 inches wide and 18 inches long. It should be about 1/4 inch thick.

EGGPLANT roasted with NUTS

1 eggplant
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
rosemary
1 egg – beaten
1 cup mixed nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) ground quite fine, but not to a powder

Peel off strips of eggplant skin, about an inch wide and about an inch apart. Cut off the top and bottom of the eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 6 to 8 segments (You want them to be no more than an inch wide.) Then cut those across into 1/4 inch pieces. Spread them into an even layer in a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt. After about half an hour, with a towel pat the eggplant to remove the moisture the salt raised. Pour enough olive oil over to coat all the pieces (about 1/4 cup) and mix them well. Sprinkle balsamic over (maybe 2 T). Add rosemary. Mix and leave to marinate fora about an hour. Put the eggplant in a big bowl, trying not to transfer to much of the liquid, and pour the egg over. Stir lightly to be sure all the pieces are coated. Pour the nuts in, and stir to try to coat each piece with those as well. Don’t worry if they fall off. Generously spread olive oil in two sheet pans. Preheat the oven to 425. Spread the eggplant in a thin layer on each sheet. Roast, turning from time to time, until it’s dark and crispy. Watch that the nuts don’t burn, but if they do, they’ll still taste good. About half an hour should do it, but keep an eye on them.

THE CUSTARD

1 cup ricotta
1 plum clove garlic, roasted or toasted, and then mashed
1 t smoked paprika
2 eggs, beaten (reserve a tablespoon to coat the top)
salt and pepper
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, washed and finely chopped

Mix everything together till it’s well incorporated and smooth.

TO ASSEMBLE

Place one rectangle of pastry dough on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Leaving a border of one inch all the way around, spread the custard on top of that. Pile the eggplant in an even layer over that, sprinkle over any extra nuts that have fallen off.

Roll the remaining rectangle of dough to be a tiny bit bigger all the way around, and place it on top of the first rectangle. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Slash the top in about 7 places, an inch apart each. They’ll open a bit as it cooks.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Cook till the top is golden and firm when you tap it. 25- 30 mintues should do it, but keep an eye on it!

Let it cool before you slice it into thick wedges.

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