It/we are back!! Who? The Paperchefs naturally.
It has been quite some time since the last challenge was announced on the dedicated blog but as often happens, a temporary hiatus is a positive experience and something not to be feared. It helps clear up our minds and focus on part of our life that often we only perceive out of the corner of our eyes.
If you are new to this challenge, it is one of the nicest out there (except the Velveteers' one naturally). Out of a list of more than 100 ingredients, a random quartet is drawn and assigned for the monthly round. The creative time allotted for each challenge is rather short, from a weekend to up to a week on rare occasions. Thankfully this was one of the latter.
I have taken part to a few rounds and I can assure you that it is a lot of fun!
I caught the news about a new Paperchef challenge via the Facebook account of a dear friend of mine and host, Ilva.
My reason why to look forward to this monthly event is the chance to put together a weird looking group of ingredients in something edible and hopefully yummy.
The actors on stage at this round weren't unknown to each other and probably this was what discouraged me at the beginning.
See for yourself if they don't look like a well assorted group to you:
Ok the lime can be a bit off-putting with the chocolate in there and that was actually my first concern. At the opposite ends of the richness' spectrum, this two ingredients like each other but at a certain distance. They need a mediator if they have to stay in a small room for a long time.
The ingredients that made everything a bit too ordinary for me were the berries.
Seasonal, yummy, refreshing; they are a perfect accompaniment for a chocolaty snack. A bit too perfect perhaps... I didn't want to fall into conventional dishes at this round, I needed something more inspiring to get my juice going; but then I thought: berries, aren't there vegetables that are actual botanical berries?? In effect there are plenty and the one that popped up into my mind first was eggplant! As part of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family this alongside with tomatoes, peppers (chilies too then) and tomatillos these are all berries.
The spongy veggie seems to be a leitmotiv for my latter posts; well I do love the purply oblong globe!
But eggplant and chocolate?? It turns out that there is a traditional dish of Neaples area, or more generally in the Campania region in Italy, that features these two strangers. No wonders; the "petronciana" (eggplant) was introduced in Italy through the south thanks to the Arab influence we had during the years. There was a time when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was actually part of the Spanish and then French empire (in the 15-18th century and 19th onward respectively); hence chocolate!
I was first introduced to this dish by a friend of mine during one of those lovely nights you spend with friends watching movies while filling your bellies with yummy home-made food. I had never heard before of it and it tasted quite nice actually, I could really see how eggplant (fried of course) could marry well with deep-dark chocolate. Here and there were also sparkles of nuts and candied orange peel to freshen up the palate with their crunch and light fruity aromas.
The frame was then set, I just needed to compose the picture in a way that was true to my style; a little nap helped in figuring that out and a new dish was born!
Dark chocolate dome of sweet fried eggplant served over crispy brioche with a lime marinated strawberries and their coulis
Ingredients (make 2 servings):
- 600g eggplant
- 2tbsp sugar
- 50g dark chocolate, chopped
- 25g heavy cream
- 2tsp chopped hazelnuts, roasted
- 1/2tsp grated orange zest
- 1cup sliced strawberries
- 1tsp fructose
- 1tsp fresh lime juice
- 1/2tsp grated lime zest
- 1/4tsp Cornstarch
- 2 slices of brioche cut out into disks
Cut the eggplant in cubes of roughly 1cm-1/2" of side, sprinkle with the sugar and cover with cold water. Stir to melt the sugar, cover then the eggplant with a piece of aluminum paper weighted down and let them brine for 30m or so.
When ready to fry, pat them dry using some paper towels and on a skillet melt a generous dollop of butter with some vegetable oil. When the foam will start to subside, trasfer the eggplant to the skillet and gently fry them until golden brown. Transfer the eggplants onto some paper towel and let them drain of the excess fat.
In the meantime transfer the chocolate and the cream in a little saucepan and place it in a bowl of warm tap-water. Let the chocolate melt slowly and stir it from time to time. When it will be all nicely melted take the saucepan out of the water bath and add the toasted hazelnuts. Stir and let coll down slightly.
Now combine the fried eggplant with the orange zest and the chocolate ganache. In a separate bowl mix the sliced strawberries with the fructose, the lime juice and the lime zest; stir and let marinate for 15min or so.
When ready to serve, drain the juices of the marinating strawberries into a little saucepan; add then the cornstarch and 4-5 slices of strawberries to it. Place the saucepan on a low fire and heat up while mashing the strawberries in the sauce with a fork. Let it come to a simmer to thicken properly and then pass the coulis through a fine meshed sieve.
In a skillet melt some butter and fry the brioche disks in it (you may want to butter slightly each of its sides and sprinkle them with sugar).
Place one disk on each plate, top with some eggplant-chocolate mixture and place some marinated strawberries on the side and some of the coulis.
Note: You can mold the eggplant-chocolate mixture by lightly pressing it into rounded bowls lined with plastic wrap. While cooling they will harden and be easy to unmold.