Being an only child means being a completely irrational dork-head about certain things, and then merely garden-variety irrational about the rest of it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have to fight off an older brother who constantly wanted to sit on my face and fart the theme-tune from Knight Rider, or an older sister who would have preferred if I’d leapt out of the womb and straight into a lake of fire – but there are certain things I don’t do well in life.
Sharing is definitely one of them.
This also could have absolutely nothing to do with childhood sibling issues and more just because I’m greedy and antisocial and just everyone watch it otherwise you might just get a Fart-Rider.
Sharing is a problem for me, and particularly with food. And then if you factor in nine years of boarding school where I generally had to eat in under ten minutes otherwise I’d be late for orchestra practice (you can start the laughing and pointing now), then you’ve got like…the funnest dinner-party guest ever. I guess the bottom line for me is that there seems to be a simple logic to all of this: I have what I want in front of me, and you should have what you want in front of you, so why can’t everyone just keep their eyes forward and their forks on their own plates? I do understand that it’s a completely ‘Pre-World War II Isolationist Policy in America Every Man Is An Island’ way of thinking about it – but once you’ve stabbed a couple of people in the hand with a restaurant steak knife (which are generally blunter than a side-on bus), they get the idea.
Of course there is a massive and fatal flaw to this system – simply, that this attitude only works when everyone else wants what I have, and not the other way around. Because lets face it, the Bad Menu Choice happens to everyone and that’s generally when an “I don’t share” policy can really bite you in the ass. Because let me tell you, it’s absolutely no fun getting a plate of what looks like cold bat-poo, while all around you people are tucking into delicious oxtail, seafood risotto, and spicy marinated strips of fried haloumi with crusty bread.
Which of course, is exactly what happened to me the other night during a dinner at Lucky Bean in Melville (16 7th street – 011 482 5572), when a perfect storm of bad ordering ended up with me having a suuuuper boring chicken thing in dough, very average bread and butter pudding (at which point a lot of people would say “duh! It’s bread and butter pudding – what did you expect it to do, sing Simply Red covers?), which had all been preceded by what had been described as an ‘aubergine and mozzarella stack’ that ended up being slices of raw tomato alternated with cold aubergine. It made me sad, but no-one noticed because they were too preoccupied with all the lovely things they were cramming into their faces, so I got drunk and started to sing the theme-tune from Pumpkin Patch in my head. Now I’m not a restaurant nazi – but what was in my head was a delicious, roasted, gooey, cheesy, melty tower of mini melanzane-esque comfort, not something you could have used for a semi-challenging game of Jenga.
So, the other thing about being an only child is that we’re stubborn – and once we get stuck on something we don’t let it go. And predictably, the aubergine disappointment ended up dominating my whole weekend – making me almost exactly zero fun to be around. Of course (being me) it got to the point where the only solution was to feverishly make what had been in my mind the whole time. Because at the end of the day – it’s one of those things that’s really simple to make -utterly delicious and comforting without being heavy, which most other winter foods tend to be.
Which is how – 48 hours after I’d ordered it, I got to eat what I’d wanted all along.
Ingredients (as a starter, for 3)
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
1 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
1 handful of equal parts fresh chopped basil, oreganum and parsley
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp of sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
half a cup of flour
fresh mozzarella, torn into small chunks
salt and pepper
What to do
Cut the two aubergines into thin slices, then layer them into a colander sprinkling with salt as you go and leave them to one side for about 20 minutes. You’ll notice a fair amount of brownish juice immediately being drawn out, which is why you’re doing it – it’s bitter and best on your sink, rather than in your melanzane.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the garlic, and just as it starts to turn golden add the tinned tomatoes. Break them up with a wooden spoon while stirring, add the herbs and vinegar, then turn the heat down and let it simmer until thick, darker and saucy – usually about 20 minutes or so. Just before taking it off the heat, add the sugar and vinegar – stir it in and then season with salt and pepper. Scoop the tomato sauce into a bowl ready to be used, wipe down the pan with paper towel.
Run the aubergine slices under some cold water to rinse them and then pat them dry with paper towel. Empty the flour onto a plate and then give each slice of aubergine a subtle coating of the flour. Heat a good splash of vegetable oil in your pan and then fry all the aubergine slices on both sides until pale golden in colour, draining any excess oil by placing the fried slices onto more paper towel once they’ve done cooking.
At this point, heat your oven to about 200 degrees celsius, and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. You’re going to need either little ceramic ramekins (similar to what I used here for souffles), or steel chef’s rings at this point. In the ramekin or steel ring, push in a layer of aubergine slices (I usually use three per layer), then spoon in some of the tomato sauce, then some chunks of mozzarella and keep on going in that way until you’ve used up all the ingredients. I’d save some pieces of the cheese for the top, just so you can get that nice melted, crusty finish.
Pop that onto the tray and into the in the oven for about 20/30 minutes and then serve hot with toasted bread.