Arugula and Roasted Eggplant with Almond-Basil Sauce

July 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

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I pull the basil leaves from stems en masse at least once a week at work, year-round. Co-workers passing by often comment on the aroma: “I just love basil.” But I feel that I have become numb to it. I understand how difficult it is to cook by the seasons in commercial kitchens, as customers want what they want and often cannot understand the added cost of using only what can be found locally, but I still find it pretty shameful with the bounty this climate offers. Instead, we offer the illusion of seasonality, changing the menu just about four times a year. An effort is made, but I would like to see more.

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At the market this morning, I walked by a basket full of fresh, bright Genovese basil and actually experienced the real aroma of basil. It is just so much more satisfying when you wait for it. Not only is the quality incredible, but the act of enjoying basil is more special when you limit yourself to the months it is available. Erin, of Naturally Ella, brought up this point in this  morning’s post:

Asparagus? I ate my weight in it and now I don’t care if I see it again until next spring.  Tomatoes? I’m about to do the same.  There is always plenty and when the season ends I let it go quietly while stuffing my face with the next.

When you realize that the quality has diminished with the passing season, it is easy to move on to whatever is available now.

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So, while I usually stick to my list and planned meals while at the market (to avoid bringing home more food than I can eat), I grabbed a big bunch of basil and a few eggplants, then some arugula from the next vendor. I forged a new plan and came up with this fantastic lunch. The pesto-like Almond-Basil sauce is fantastic; it lacks parmesan or pecorino but remains rich from a generous amount of oil, it lacks garlic but red wine vinegar supplies a punch of acidity, and it lacks pine nuts but almonds are much more local and perfectly serviceable. The recipe makes about 4x more than what is needed for the eggplant and arugula, but I find it is easier to use a whole bunch of basil all at once. Scale it down as needed, or save the leftovers for any number of uses. I am planning on using it on our pizza tonight to replace the tomato sauce.

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1 year ago, today: Tomato Dressed Panzanella with Grilled Chicken

Arugula and Roasted Eggplant with Almond-Basil Sauce:
serves 2

- 4 young eggplants, about 1 lb
- 1 bunch arugula, about 1/2 lb
- 1 bunch basil, about 6 oz
- 1 cup almonds, toasted
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 – 1 cup olive oil, good quality
- 1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each eggplant in half, from stem to tip and place on a greased baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle olive oil over each eggplant half, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size.

Roughly chop the bunch of arugula, place it in a bowl and set aside.

Place almonds, basil, red pepper flakes, vinegar and a good pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse or blend until all ingredients are emulsified, scraping down the sides with a spatula and pushing down the basil as needed. Slowly add the olive oil as the processor is running, or 1/4 cup at a time, until emulsified. Add the water last to achieve desired thickness. Season to taste.

Remove eggplant from oven when it is browned on top and the flesh is very soft. Let it cool just until you can handle it, and transfer the egplant to a cutting board. Discard the stems and slice each half into 1/2″ pieces or longer if desired. Pile the warm eggplant on top of the arugula and add a few scoops of the sauce, folding everything together. Serve warm and enjoy.

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