Before grilling meat or fish, I always like to prepare vegetables on the barbecue. Chargrilling peppers, onions, courgettes, aubergine, leeks, potato you name it. With the right condiments (herbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar they are second to none) they can make for an excellent antipasto or perfect accompaniment to meat or fish.
Among foodies or those who regularly view the BBC, Raymond Blanc needs no introduction. He is a French chef who settled in the UK many years ago. He is the chef of a Michelin starred restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He is passionate about cooking and his charisma whenever he is presenting a television programme is always visible.
This winter, BBC had a superb series by Raymond Blanc on How to Cook and one of the programmes was about grilling. The following, which I have tried twice to great acclaim is an adaptation of his recipe. It is easy but impressive. The flavours are strong but harmonious. This is an exceptional vegetarian starter. I love my meat, I love my fish but if all vegetarian dishes were like this I could be eating many more vegetarian dishes.
Whenever I have tried recipes from Raymond Blanc or else adapted his ideas I have never been disappointed. So I really recommend you try the following dish.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 3 Aubergines
- 1 Garlic Clove
- Juice of half a lemon (or to taste)
- 1 fresh chilli
- 6 dates
- 1 tin of good quality chickpeas
- Ricotta salata (if you do not have this, you can also use fresh ricotta)
- Toasted Almond flakes
- Fresh coriander
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
1. Once the barbecue is hot, place the aubergines on and ensure that the skin is ‘burnt’. Turn frequently. Once you see that the aubergines have softened, remove from the barbecue and wait for them to cool down slightly. The aubergine will have a very smoky flavour because of the charred skin.
2. Half the aubergine and scoop out the flesh. Place into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir in some extra virgin olive oil. Add the garlic and half the chili with the lemon juice and stir. Then add the chopped dates, a handful of chickpeas, chopped mint and coriander to taste (a handful of each should suffice). You can now put the mixture into the refrigerator until you plate the dish.
3. Spoon the mixture into the plates, add some chickpeas to garnish on the side of the mixture, then top with some toasted almond flakes to add texture, a handful of the remaining chopped chili and then crumble the ricotta salata. Drizzle the best quality olive oil you can find and then add a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
Raymond Blanc had suggested using feta cheese in his recipe but I have tried it both with ricotta salata and with fresh ricotta and it works extremely well. Enjoy.