Ok, ok, I know, officially spring is coming. I know that soon I will have too much asparagus to cook with and zillions of the best strawberries ever. But in Germany spring does arrive late. Oh so late. Yesterday an English friend of mine was telling us how he’s so fed up with the trees for not displaying any #@&%$? leaves, yet. The weather did turn milder, but the fields are still bare.
So for the moment I’m relying on the usual leeks, potatoes, cabbage, plus more or less tasty imports. I live with a serial tomato eater. When we came back here after being in Calabria for a month, we went to shop for food. While I was all in all quite happy with the selection of products, he bursted out: “Where are the vegetables I can actually eat?”. He loves Brussel sprouts, potatoes and leeks, but when you grow up with tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, you miss them bitterly. Now and again I buy them because food nostalgia is too strong.
Lately I tried to roast completely tasteless greenhouse tomatoes with maple syrup, as seen at the lovely Lottie+Doof. It worked so well that basically all the tomatoes I buy end up slow roasted like this, now. The maple syrup adds an extra dimension that resembles quite well the flavour of ripe tomatoes, together with garlic; a little kick from chilli and a little earthy note from the oregano round them up for a real treat. I usually don’t roast tomatoes unless they are very good, to make a pasta sauce for example: it always seems to be a bit of a waste to keep the oven on for so long. But the improvement was so tangible that I now find room in my oven for a batch of tomatoes any time I turn it on, which happens quite often in the end.
The latest time I turned my oven on it was to roast aubergines from the ethnic market. Totally unseasonal as well, but in the end, I think aubergines in Germany are always out of season. I mixed it with some rucola from Italy, a bit of toasted almonds, and I whipped up a creamy yogurt sauce, with nutty notes from tahini, plus some sweet sour pomegranate molasses, notoriously invented to go with aubergines. It felt good. We almost felt like winter was over.
I am sharing this salad on Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Rachel from The Crispy Cook, because of the presence of two ingredients: rucola and roasted tomatoes. The roasted tomatoes here play almost a spice role, they are vehicles of flavour and not of bulk consistency. This technique highlights yet another soul of one of the most versatile and widespread vegetables, one that may tend to be overlooked in many places where you have to live with tasteless specimen. Rucola is one of my staples: bitter and peppery, it is one of the small salad leaves so popular in Veneto. In Calabria it is grown and sold in small bunches, more like a herb than a salad, actually, because it is very intense. However intense, its flavour is neutral enough to pair with almost anything: you can’t go wrong with it, from meat to fish to pasta. For this reason in the early Nineties a lot of restaurants in Italy did start abusing it, and now something ‘with rucola’ is perceived as the kind of food you want to make fancy, without understanding a thing of it. Fancy version? Just hide under a mountain of green rucola and double the price. Such a shame. Rucola deserves better fame than that, and this recipe will help you appreciate its strenghts.
Roasted aubergine and tomato salad with rucola and yoghurt
You can roast the vegetables up to a day ahead. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before assembling and serving the salad. The yoghurt sauce is very creamy: if you like it more runny, use low fat yoghurt and/or thin with water. You can add a little garlic if you like.
4 long aubergines
125 gr rucola
20 gr almonds, peeled
salt, black pepper, good olive oil
For the maple roasted tomatoes:
250 gr cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 garlic clove
2 dried red chillies, or to taste
pinch of oregano, or thyme
For the sauce:
125 ml pot greek full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half, chop garlic and chilli. Mix all the ingredients for the roasted tomatoes, spread them on a baking tray (they must be on a single layer, but make sure you use something with some border since they produce a lot of juices) and put in the oven.
Cut the aubergines in three parts lengthwise, then each cylinder in six wedges. Arrange on a baking tray or two, sprinkle with salt, black pepper and olive oil. Put in the oven and roast for about 40 minutes until the aubergines are soft. Leave the tomatoes in the oven until it is completely cold. While the oven is on, toast the skinned almonds as well: it will take about 10 minutes before they turn a golden hue and start smelling toasted.
This can be made a day ahead. Make sure you keep all of the tomato juices.
Shortly before serving the salad, wash the rucola. Chop the almonds very roughly. Mix the yoghurt with tahini, pomegranate molasses, a bit of lemon juice and salt. On a big plate arrange a layer of rucola, cover with aubergines and tomatoes. Spoon over a bit of the tomato juices, a bit of sauce, then proceed to pile up layers to form a pyramid. Finish off with a lot of spoonfuls of yoghurt and cover with chopped almonds. Drizzle with olive oil and serve at room temperature.