Summer Grilling: Grilled Eggplant (my favorite way) with Goat Cheese, Fresh Basil, and Fire-toasted Bread
Finally, it seems like it’s summer here. Vancouver can’t ever brag about its early summer, but this year the cold and rainy spring seemed particularly lengthy. As soon as the weather permitted, and the tedious task of grill-cleaning was accomplished, I grilled my all time favorite vegetable. I love to layer freshly grilled, hot eggplant slices with garlic-balsamic-evoo dressing and fresh basil. Then I quickly toast a sourdough bread and serve it spread with goat cheese and topped with the eggplant. It is a great meal of its own. Good wine is a must, though.
Serves about 8-12 as an appetizer
- 4 to 5 medium globe eggplants, or about 6-7 thin Japanese ones
- Coarse salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing over the slices prior grilling
- 2 large garlic cloves, put through a garlic press
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly coarsely ground black pepper
- Fresh basil, finely chopped (about ½ heaped cup)
- Good quality artisan Italian sourdough, thickly sliced for serving
- Soft goat cheese for serving
First, make the dressing. Combine the smashed garlic with the salt in a bowl. Using a mortar pestle, work it into a paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season with the freshly ground pepper. Cover, set aside.
Start working on the eggplants about 2-3 hours before grilling. Wash the eggplants, cut off the tops and bottoms. Slice the globe eggplants into rounds slightly less than 1/2-inch thick. Slice the Japanese eggplants diagonally. Take a large colander or sieve and place it over the sink. Put the eggplant slices into the colander in layers, generously sprinkling each layer with the coarse salt. Cover with plastic wrap, place a plate or a removable tart pan bottom over the top of the eggplant slices. Fill a mason jar or a large liquid-measuring cup with water and place onto the plate as weight. Leave for a couple of hours. It might seem like an extra-step, but it does completely eliminate any bitterness; and it’s especially important when dealing with regular, globe eggplants. The young Japanese ones are almost never bitter, so you can proceed with grilling right away.
Wash the slices under running water to get rid of bitter juice and excess of salt. Pat them dry with paper towels. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet (line the sheet with foil, if you don’t want to wash it later) and brush both sides generously with extra-virgin olive oil. No need to salt if you let them sit, salted, in the colander; they are gonna be salty enough. Otherwise, sprinkle the slices with some salt.
Preheat the grill to medium heat. Brush or spray the racks with oil. Grill the eggplants, in batches, on both sides until the attractive grill marks appear, about 8 to 10 minutes per side. The time needed depends on your grill, so check it now and then, but try not to disturb the slices too early, or they’ll stick.
As soon as the first batch is ready, arrange the grilled slices onto the serving platter in layers, generously topping every single layer with the dressing (rewhisk before using) and sprinkling the fresh basil over. Repeat layering until all eggplants are grilled.
Toast the bread again until the grill marks appear, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Serve the warm bread spread with the goat cheese and topped with the eggplant.
Any eggplant leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for a couple of days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
The eggplant is also delicious with fresh cilantro, instead of basil.