This month, Trish Deseine campaigns for cooler food – and shares a recipe for this Parmigiana Di Melanzane that can be served hot or cool …
I’ve always loved France’s early September, back-to-school energy. Everyone upbeat and glowing, buzzing about their summertime discoveries, twitching to make changes to their homes, diets, hobbies, habits and often – it’s the season! – relationships. This year, way more change than we care for or could have imagined, is being forced upon us, and the energy we must now find is for leaning into major instability and growing our resilience. For our diets, we all now know the theory by heart, and are embracing local, sustainable and vegetable with gusto.
Perhaps the biggest challenge we are now facing in our homes and kitchens is how to turn down the heat and save energy. All the usual and, frankly, once-dreary advice is now vital: keep the oven door closed while cooking, batch cook while it is still hot, boil a kettle to heat water rather than on the hob, and only the amount you need. Invest in a slow and/or pressure cooker, defrost overnight in the fridge rather than in the microwave, and consider switching to induction if you need a new hob. Boring perhaps, but every little bit will help our planet.
Writing this in the midst of our second heatwave and having not touched my cooker for a good two weeks, it’s hard to imagine craving hot food again. But as summer’s bounty wanes, how can we reconsider the heat factor in how we cook for ourselves and friends, and make slaving over hot stoves firmly a thing of the past? I grew up in a household where the tyranny of “piping hot” food was real. At my parents’ dinner parties, the hostess trolley made sure second helpings were just as toasty as the first and the final, tense, half-hour dash to have all elements of the Sunday roast land steaming on the (heated) plates simultaneously is etched in my mind forever. I didn’t understand it, even then. There was always something on that packed plate which was going to scald my tongue, so I would wait five minutes before starting, thankful for the cool balm of apple sauce or redcurrant jelly to adjust the heat on those first mouthfuls.
As autumn approaches, enjoying good, healthy food remains one of our greatest pleasures and the idea of eating more entirely cold meals is less than appealing. Warm food is generally better than cold for our digestion and for absorbing nutrients, but more importantly, it’s also more enjoyable than super-hot for flavour. The hotter the food, the more taste is reduced. Scientists believe this may be because our bodies’ defence mechanisms kick in as we worry we might be burned instead of enjoying the mouthful. So when it comes to Sunday roasts, relax! Let the meat and veg cool slowly and reheat only the gravy to give plates a little heat boost for second helpings. If you must reheat, make sure you have served the food in a microwaveable dish and give it a minute or two’s blast on high (always more economic than reheating in the oven). For weekdays, plan ahead and consider serving pasta or couscous hot at a first sitting, and then rebooting its flavour with cheese, pickles, anchovies or chilli as a chilled or room temp follow-up. Try to phase out boiling vegetables and use a wok or cast iron pan to flash fry quickly, rather than grilling or roasting every time. Cooking with less fatty meats, vegetable sauces and stocks, and olive oil rather than butter, will reduce any unpleasant congealed effects as food cools.
I believe what I call the Mediterranean feast approach to entertaining – a multitude of small dishes in beautiful tableware, all served at once, mostly room temperature or cold, some hot but well-behaved enough not to need reheating – is the most convivial, contemporary way to have a good time, both for guests and hosts. You can stay within the frontiers of a specific country, or mix it up, serving warm, rich Italian pasta with cold crunchy Spanish condiments, Moroccan spiced grilled fish and creamy Lebanese dips. Only pedants will mind this “Interrail” approach, and I doubt any of those ever find their way onto glossy guest lists. This Italian recipe will get your feast menu started. @TrishDeseine @trishdeseineencore
Parmigiana Di Melanzane
A well-behaved dish to bring hot (but not too hot) to the table and then let cool slowly as the wine and chat flow.
1 1/2 hours preparation
1hr 15 cooking, heat oven to 180°C
4 medium aubergines, peeled and sliced longways into 1 cm slices
Olive oil for frying
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
150g good, freshly grated parmesan
180g mozzarella, drained and squeezed, torn into small pieces
200g mozzarella, drained, sliced, for the topping
600ml tomato sauce
Salt and pepper
1. Sprinkle the aubergine slices with salt then place flat on several layers of kitchen paper. Cover with paper, then another layer of aubergine and continue until all the slices are covered. Place a flat tray or baking sheet on top and weigh down with pots or tins. Leave to rest for about an hour. This will drain the excess moisture in the aubergine and make the texture of the dish so much nicer.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Dust the aubergine slices in flour and fry until golden. Blot them on paper and leave to cool.
3. Mix the parmesan with the mozzarella, oregano, salt and pepper. Spread about a third of the sauce over the bottom of a gratin dish. Add a layer of aubergine, then more sauce, followed by the cheese mixture. Repeat until you are out of ingredients, finishing with a layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake until soft – about 50 minutes. Remove and top with mozzarella slices and bake for another 10 minutes at 200°C. Cool for 20 minutes before serving with a garnish of basil.
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