Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eggplant "Pizzas"

Grilled eggplant slices act as the “pizza crust” onto which you can pile any number of vegetables, nuts, fish, seeds, olives, capers, cheeses, etc. The version below contains seven vegetables (including those used to make the sauce)!  As an added benefit, they’re very easy to make, and quick, too, if you have Basic tomato sauce (see below) in your refrigerator or freezer.

Because of their high water content, many people think that eggplants don’t offer much in the way of nutrients. However, nothing could be further from the truth! In addition to providing a wide range of vitamins and minerals, eggplants also contains important plant nutrients thought to have anti-cancer benefits, such as caffeic and chlorogenic acid, and flavonoids such as nasunin.

Another way in which eggplants provide cancer protection is by removing excess iron from our bodies, for nasunin is not only a potent antioxidant, but also an iron chelator (a compound that binds to iron, making it unavailable for use by the body). Although iron is an essential nutrient, too much of it boosts the production of free radicals and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.  By binding iron, nasunin lowers the risk of cellular damage that can promote cancer.

Most of eggplants’ healthy compounds are concentrated in the skin, so either buy organic eggplants or, if you buy conventionally grown eggplants, make sure you wash them thoroughly. One note of caution: eggplants belong to the nightshade family of plants. For most people this is not a problem, but people with nightshade allergies should avoid these (along with tomatoes, peppers, cayenne and chili peppers and potatoes).

Serves 4 as a side dish or hors d’oeuvre.

2 large, firm eggplants
2fl oz/¼ cup/60ml olive oil
7fl oz/scant 1 cup/200ml Basic tomato sauce (see below)
6oz/170g roast peppers in olive oil
15 sliced chestnut or button mushrooms
3oz/85g feta or mozzarella cheese
10 black olives, chopped or sliced
4 tbsp pine nuts

Preheat grill to medium.

With a long knife, cut off a thin slice on either side of the eggplants, and then slice the rest of the eggplants into 4-5 slices approximately as thick as your index finger.

Cover a baking tray with parchment and lay eggplant slices on it; lightly brush both sides with olive oil and slide under the grill. Grill 5-6 minutes on each side until golden.

Remove and spread tomato sauce onto each eggplant slice. Top with grilled peppers, mushrooms, cheese, olives and pine nuts or anything else you would top a pizza with. Grill for another 8-10 minutes until the toppings begin to turn golden and the cheese has melted.

Lift onto plates with a spatula. To really boost your vegetable quota, serve with a mixed salad or steamed vegetables of your choice.

These taste delicious on slices of sourdough bread that have been lightly toasted, rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with olive oil, Spanish tapa-style.

Basic Tomato Sauce
This can be made in 15 minutes, but the longer you let it simmer, the better it will taste. Unseasoned, unsalted tomatoes in jars are fine if you can’t get fresh ones.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1¾lb/800g fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ tsp each of thyme and oregano
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp tomato paste
salt & freshly ground black pepper
acacia honey (optional) 

In a heavy-bottomed pot, gently warm olive oil and cook onion and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes, herbs and tomato paste, bring to the boil, cover and simmer on low heat for at least 15 minutes. If it seems too thick, add some water or a splash of white or red wine.

Remove bay leaf. Transfer sauce to blender and liquidize until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper; add a little acacia honey if it is too acidic.

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