Eggplant & olive tart with a rosemary-cornmeal crust

Eggplant & olive tart

I had a muddled quote in my head last week. I couldn’t remember the whole thing, and google wasn’t helping. Turns out it was Roland Barthes, from his essay “Upon leaving a movie theater.” The quote goes thusly…“The film spectator might adopt the silk worm’s motto: inclusum labor illustrat: because I am shut in I work, and shine with all the intensity of my desire.”

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, before and after I finally discovered the precise words. At first I thought it was a glow worm, glowing with the intensity of his desire. (I’d asked for help with the quote, and a friend said it reminded him of Churchill’s quote, “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow worm,” which, obviously, I love on every level. I like things that glow. I believe I coined the term “glowy.” Glowy is a Clairey word.) I love film because it glows. Because it’s light through a lens that makes the film and exhibits the film – flickering glowing lights on screen. Of course, this isn’t really true anymore. Obviously video involves light, but it doesn’t glow the way film does. And Barthes’ quote is from a place and time inhabited by people who thought of film as an art, that they could shape by endless discussions, which sometimes resulted in beautiful films being made, and sometimes resulted in more discussions. I’m sure the conversations glowed, too, with the intensity of their words.

Nowadays the film spectator isn’t always cocooned in a darkened theater. They are, as likely as not, watching on a television in their home, with familial chaos all around them. I thought about myself, when I was younger, talking about films, making films. Not shut in: filmmaking is collaborative, it requires confidence and lots of coordination, but you do spark off of the people you work with – you do create light that way. I thought about my life in the last ten years, as a mother. I believe I have slowly shut myself in. I have slowly pulled soft silken threads around myself and my family. I believe this would have happened even had I worked full time outside the house. It’s not that I don’t have friends and interests outside of my family, it’s that I have this space, this home, from which I look out on the world.

And within my space nothing glows as much as my children, with their creative lightening, their immediate needs, their unshaded love. I’ve been thinking that the “work” I do, shut in pleasantly here, especially in the last year, has been cooking. All of the creativity, the fiendish plotting, the anticipation – it’s all become so important to me…it’s such a pleasure to do this work. And writing has become important to me again, too, whilst shut in with my beautiful sassy brats. The beauty of it is that you can do it anywhere, at any time, you can put words together in your head no matter what else you’re doing, and if you’re lucky they’ll glow for you. In the end, this work doesn’t confine us, it gives us the sustenance and the shine we need to venture out into the world.

I love a meal that takes a little bit of attention at various points throughout the day. You’ll start something in the morning. You’ll forget about it for a few hours and go ineffectively do some housework, or go on adventures in the secret passage that leads to the other secret passage on the other other side of the canal. You’ll go home and slice this and mix that, and then leave it while you take the boys to a creek or the river. And then just before dinner you’ll have a big glass of wine and start putting everything together. This is just such a meal! You can start the dough, and leave it for hours. You can slice and salt the eggplant, and leave that for a while. Come back, punch down some dough, make a marinade for the eggplant, go about your business. Plus it tasted really good! Crispy eggplant, fresh tomatoes, a soft but crispy cornmeal crust, a subtly flavored roasted garlic custard, smoky mozzarella, some briny olives, and some fresh basil. What could be better than all that? I actually roasted a whole head of garlic, in a little pottery garlic roaster, and used a few of those cloves. You can also toast a couple cloves in a toaster oven, or roast them in the oven at 425 for about 15 minutes, to take the edge off. It won’t be quite as soft and delicious, but good nonetheless.

Eggplant olive tart

Here’s Nina Simone’s Work Song.


1 cup cornmeal
2 cups flour
1 t yeast
1 t sugar
1/2 + 1/2 cups warm water
2 T olive oil
1 t salt
1 T rosemary, chopped

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl and set aside to get foamy. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and rosemary, mix well, and make a well in the center. Add the yeast and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add about another half cup warm water until you have a soft, workable dough. Knead for about seven minutes. Put in a large lightly oiled bowl and set aside to rise for about two hours. Punch/fold it down, and leave it for about another hour. Punch down, and let it sit while you prepare the filling. Then stretch/roll/press or some combination of all three onto a large, lightly oiled baking sheet. Make the edge a little thicker, so you have a crust.


1 cup fresh ricotta
1/3 cup milk
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/2 t salt
plenty of pepper
2 eggs
2 cloves roasted garlic (or toasted, if you don’t have time to roast)

Mix everything together in a bowl till it’s smooth and creamy.


1 large eggplant, prepared this way. I used breadcrumbs, freshly ground black pepper, and just a tiny bit of flour as the breading this time.

1 tomato thinly sliced
1 t thyme
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
fresh basil

Put the crust in the oven and cook for about 5 minutes, till it seems set and not shiny. Remove it from the oven. Spread the custard evenly over it, leaving about an inch for crust. Spread the tomatoes in a pretty pattern (I did a cross shape). Spread the eggplant over them in a pretty pattern, leaving some tomatoes and custard shining through. Scatter thyme, grated smoked mozzarella, and olives over the top.

Bake for about 20 minutes, till the crust starts to look brown, the cheese is melted, and in the places where the custard pokes through the eggplant it looks puffed and golden.

Let cool slightly, scatter fresh chopped basil over the top, slice and serve!


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