Runner’s recipes with Sarah - Aubergine

Aubergine is one of those trusty vegetables (that's really a fruit) that adds bulk to a meal, absorbs flavours brilliantly, and is low GI, low calorie and contains negligible fat. It's a delicious addition to curries, stews, soups, stir fries; it can be roasted, steamed, fried and grilled. It's a great source of dietary fibre, which can help protect against type 2 diabetes and keeps the digestive system functioning. It is also a good source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C, potassium and copper. 

The major health benefit of aubergine comes from a phytonutrient in the skin called nasunin. Nasunin is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Animal studies have shown that nasunin protects lipids in brain cell membranes from damage. The lipid bilayer plays a protective role, enabling wastes out and nutrients in; stopping the cell being damaged by free radicals and interacting with messenger molecules to switch on/off functional activity within the cell.  

Aubergine factoids (to dust off for Trivial Pursuit)...

- Aubergines (solanum melongena) are in the nightshade family (Solonacaea), along with potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers. It is classified a fruit.

- Like tomatoes, they grow from vines of a plant several feet in height

- The classic appearance for an aubergine is a pear-shaped egg, hence the American term 'eggplant'. Italians call it 'melanzane' which means 'crazy apple' (a much more fun name)

- Due to their bitter taste they were considered attractive in the garden but not used in the culinary setting for centuries. Modern aubergines are less bitter (hence the practice of salting and rinsing - known as 'degorging' is not necessary, although if frying the aubergine salting will reduce the amount of oil absorbed).

- Select an aubergine by pressing the skin gently - if it springs back it is ripe, if a dent remains it is not. Look out for discolouration or scars as this could indicate the flesh is damaged 

- Aubergine is also in the same family as tobacco, and interestingly contains more nicotine than any other edible plant. However the levels are 0.01mg/100g, so you would need to consume 9kg aubergine to consume the same nicotine in one cigarette.

- And one final random factoid - according to a 5th century Chinese scroll, fashionable Chinese ladies would make dye from the purple skin and use it to polish their teeth so they were shiny grey. Delightful. 


Aubergine, potato and pepper stew (serves 4)

This stew is super filling and warming; perfect post weekend long run. It also looks very nice if you have guests coming round and fancy making a low tech, tasty dish. 

Ingredients:

·                   3 tbsp olive oil

·       1 onion, chopped

·       1 stick celery, chopped

·       2 garlic cloves, crushed

·       1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into large chunks

·       1 medium courgette, cut into large chunks

·       1 aubergine, cut into large chunks

·       2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

·       1 tsp dried oregano

·       2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

·       400ml vegetable stock

·       400g can butterbeans, drained and rinsed

·       4 tbsp kalamata olives (or other black pitted olives)

·       2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

·       125g crumbled feta

·       2 tbsp freshly chopped flatleaf parsley

Method:

1.     Heat half the olive in a large casserole dish, add the chopped onion and celery and cook until tender but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. While this is cooking prepare the other vegetables.

2.     Add the remaining oil, chopped peppers, courgette and aubergine to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the potatoes, oregano, canned tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, season, cover the pan and allow to gently simmer for around 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

3.     Add the butterbeans and olives and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.

4.     Scatter with pine nuts, feta and parsley and serve the casserole dish as a delicious warming stew on the middle of your table!  


Aubergine rolls with spinach and ricotta (serves 4)

I had this in a restaurant recently and have been hunting down the recipe ever since! I had it as a starter (greedy, moi?) but it makes a great main course - I would just add a side salad or some additional greens.

Ingredients:

·       2 aubergines, cut into thin slices lengthways

·       2 tbsp olive oil

·       500g spinach

·       250g tub ricotta

·       grating of nutmeg

·       350g jar tomato sauce

·       4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

·       4 tbsp parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Method:

1.     Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Brush both sides of the aubergine slices with oil, then lay on a large baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 mins until tender, turning once.

2.     Meanwhile, put the spinach in a large colander and pour over a kettle of boiling water to wilt. Cool, then squeeze out the excess water, so that it is dry. Mix with the ricotta, nutmeg and season.

3.     Dollop a spoonful of the cheesy spinach mix in the centre of each aubergine slice, fold over to make a parcel and lay, sealed-side down, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over tomato sauce, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese, and bake for 20-25 mins until golden and piping hot.