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July 24, 2009

Cooking Local Grilled Eggplant, prosciutto, roasted pepper and mozzarella "sandwiches".


            Welcome back to the kitchen. It’s hot summer grilling weather out there, and certainly a week to avoid using the oven at all costs. Especially if you are unlucky enough to have an un-air conditioned house like I do, then you are switching to cold meals or outdoor cooking these days.
            Now, I’m fairly confident that all of you are comfortable grilling the basic burgers and dogs, and even steaks aren’t all that complicated. So this week I want to pass along a great, unusual recipe I came across while browsing the comprehensive “Weber’s Real Grilling” by Jamie Purviance.
            We’re going to make grilled eggplant, prosciutto, and mozzarella “sandwiches”, which will come as oozing layers of rich Italian flavors and a hint of smokiness from the grill. While elegant, these eggplant stacks are actually fairly simple. And we can easily make them vegetarian by simply leaving out the prosciutto. Oh, and meat eaters should feel free to substitute good quality ham if you can’t get your hands on real deal Italian aged meats.
            1 medium red bell pepper. Just rinse it off and leave it whole, we’ll take out the guts after it’s cooked, which is actually easier.
            Plenty of extra virgin olive oil
            1 teaspoon kosher salt. The benefit of this course, chunky salt is both in flavor and texture, and has nothing to do with which testament you might prefer.
            ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Or in cooking local parlance, grind a bunch of pepper in there, it’s a foundational spice.
            2 globe eggplants roughly 1 lb each, trimmed. We want to use eggplants that are as close to cylinders as possible, because we are going to slice them into 1/3 inch rounds. The more even these rounds are, the better, so trim down each eggplant to a roughly even cylinder. And I highly recommend farmers market globe eggplants. You haven’t enjoyed this nightshade cousin till you’ve had fresh locally grown.
            8 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma.
            8 slices mozzarella cheese. Slice each a hearty ¼ inch thick or so.
            8 medium fresh basil leaves. Or as I would say, a handful of basil from the garden. Use any variety you’ve got, though I’ve been partial to purple basils this summer for largely esthetic reasons.
            So to make these eggplant prosciutto sandwiches, we need to fire up the grill to a nice medium heat. Start by grilling the peppers until they are blackened. I like to rub them in a bit of olive oil before I throw them onto the direct heat. The skin should blister and blacken, this means you are doing it right.
            Grill the peppers for 12 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. When you pull the peppers off, put them aside in a medium bowl to cool, cover them with plastic wrap so they will continue to steam, or just put them in a plastic bag. The skin and burned bits should come off easily after a short while.
            After 10 minutes or so, peel the skin of the peppers and discard the stems and seeds. I suggest giving them a quick rinse and patting them dry if you are frustrated by sticky seeds.  Now place the roasted peppers in the food processor with 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus the salt and pepper. Process until smooth. You’ll probably have to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula a number of times
            Now it’s time to deal with the eggplants. Cut each eggplant crosswise, into 1/3 inch slices. Brush both sides of each slice with oil. Grill over medium heat, until the underside has deep grill marks, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer half the slices to a serving tray and grill until both sides have solid grill mark. This should take another 3-4 minute more.
            Remember our red pepper puree? Place a tablespoon of the puree in the center of each slice of eggplant.  Now layer on the prosciutto, folded to fit, onto each half and add a slice of mozzarella cheese and a few basil leaves. Top each “sandwich” with a piece of eggplant that has been grilled on both sides.
            Use a spatula to transfer the eggplant sandwiches to the cooking grate, final uncooked side down. Grill over direct medium heat until the cheese is softened and the layers are heated all the way through. This should take about 3 minutes. Yum, these look awesome!
            Serve these eggplant, roasted pepper, prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches warm with the rest of the red pepper puree mixture spooned over the top. Just grill up some crusty bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and serve the eggplant towers along with a simple arugula with balsamic vinegar salad. It also might be nice to grill up some zucchini squash as a side dish.
            Nice work everyone, I hope this recipe has given you some ideas on how to use eggplants, and how to grill some more unusual flavors. I’d love to hear what you are cooking these days, just email me at Cooking Local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.



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