Last week I received a cookbook in the mail. I hadn't ordered it, rather the editor sent it to me because she had included one of my recipes in the collection. The book is called Genius Recipes, and, while I do not consider myself a genius in the kitchen, I am quite humbled to be included in the line-up. My co-contributors are of the likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Julia Child. There are recipes from Judy Rogers and Alice Waters. Some of them I would agree, are in fact, geniuses. As a collection, the book is stellar. It introduces unusual techniques. As I read through it I had several how-come-I-didn’t-think-of-that moments.
One recipe jumped out at me. It was written by a friend of mine named Francis Lam. Francis would be the first to tell you (after me) that he doesn't consider himself a genius in the kitchen either, but the technique he uses to cook eggplant is really smart. He lets it cook slowly in oil and liquid until it becomes mushy, embracing the viscous texture of the eggplant and letting it become a sauce for pasta.
Francis adds thyme for seasoning. This time of year, when the garden is just starting to wake up again and the perennial herbs are springing back, my thyme is lagging behind. But the sorrel and chives are just bustin’ out of the ground. I substituted them for the herb in his recipe.
Francis Lam’s Eggplant Sauce with Pasta and Seasonal Herbs
Adapted from Genius Recipes
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound eggplant, cut into chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup liquid such as lentil or pasta cooking water
1 pound dried pasta, such as; spaghetti, linguini find, or tagliatelle
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup sorrel leaves, cut into a chiffonade
2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh chives
Toss the eggplant in a bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and let stand for 20 minutes. Discard any liquid from the bowl and pat the eggplant dry.
While the eggplant rests heat the oil with the garlic cloves in a medium heavy skillet over low heat. In Francis’ words, “You’re trying to get them friendly with one another, so don’t worry if nothing happens for a while.”
Add the eggplant to the skillet and increase the heat to medium high. When the eggplant begins to appear translucent, stir in the liquid and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the eggplant simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is “mashable,” about 20 minutes. Mash the eggplant in the skillet with a spoon, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain and toss with the eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, sorrel, and chives. Serve the pasta drizzled with more oil to taste.