Autumnal aubergines

AUBERGINE AND MUSHROOM RAGOUT WITH BAKED POLENTA

DS - Why haven’t we eaten this before? Major strategic error.

High praise indeed for the week’s Autumnal creation.

I’d planned to make this hearty ragout for two separate meals - one for a lunch with a vegan girlfriend (skipping the cheese) and the other for dinner with DS and EB, who’s staying with us in Paris for the moment. I’ve got a few days at home (finally), so had some time to let something stew. It’s the kind of thing you can keep tucking into over a few days, as it will only improve with time.

Late September in Paris still offers a plethora of seasonal vegetables, so I’ve been stocking up on tomatoes and aubergines while they’re still good. We’re also having a meat-free week after too much carnivorous gluttony in Russia and the South of France. Other vegetarian delights have included this courgette savoury cake and tomato tart, as well as Japanese miso aubergine with sesame runner beans (my original post is with mackerel and spinach - you can use the same sauces with aubergine and beans).

I made my go-to simple dessert of poached pears with chocolate sauce to follow, which is light but scrumptious.

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Aubergine and mushroom ragout with baked polenta

Serves 4 - 6, takes an hour but will be better if you can leave it to simmer for longer

main / summer / autumn / gluten free / dairy free (option) / vegetarian / vegan (optional) / detox / easy peasy / quietly smug / party

Earthy, hearty, comforting, delicious. The dish is easy to put together and will make the kitchen smell DELICIOUS. Polenta isn’t a grain I usually cook with, but it makes the perfect fuss-free (and gluten free, if you’re into that) accompaniment to soak up the juices. The melted cheese adds some lux to the dish, which you can skip if you’d prefer something lighter.

* Aubergine - 2

* Dried mixed mushrooms - 15g

* Olive oil - a few glugs

* Onion - 1 large, peeled and roughly diced

* Thyme - a few springs

* Sage - 3 leaves, chopped

* Paprika - 2 tbsp

* Garlic - 3 cloves, peeled and chopped

* Mushrooms - 400g, sliced (white, brown or button)

* Tomatoes - 5, ripe and roughly chopped

* Red wine - a glass

* Tomato purée - 2 tbsp

* Balsamic vinegar - 1 tbsp

* Salt - 2 tsp

* Sugar - 1 tbsp

* Quick cook polenta - 200g

* Taleggio/mozarella - 200g (optional for vegan/dairy free)

* Parmesan - to serve

Cut each aubergine in half lengthways and salt the flesh. Layer between paper towels and leave to sweat (or leave to drain in a colander).

Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and soak in a cup of boiling water.

In a large casserole pan, fry the onions with a generous glug of olive oil, the thyme, sage and paprika over a medium heat. Once it's sizzling nicely, add a splash of water, cover and leave to steam for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic to the casserole and fry for a couple more minutes. Next add the fresh, sliced mushrooms. Turn up the heat a little and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, wine, tomato puree, vinegar, salt, sugar and plenty of black pepper. Strain the dried mushroom liquid into the casserole, roughly chop the soaked mushrooms and add them too. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Cut the aubergine into 2 inch slices.

If you’re feeling lazy or pushed for time, you can skip this next step and just add aubergines to the casserole. No-one will judge you.

If not, heat another couple of glugs of olive oil in a separate large frying pan over a high heat. Place the aubergine slices flesh side down in the pan to sear. You’ll probably need to do this in two batches. The aim is to brown the aubergines on one side, which will give them a more caramel-like flavour. Add them to the casserole and stir through.

Check the sauce for seasoning. Add more salt/sugar/vinegar/pepper according to taste. Leave to simmer for at least another 15 minutes, or for as long as you can before eating. The flavours will only get better.

Prepare the polenta thirty minutes before you'd like to eat.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Place the polenta in a medium sized oven dish - I used an oval dish about 20cm long and 15cm wide. Add 3.5 cups of water (you need 3.5 times the volume of liquid to polenta), and a few pinches of salt. Stir well and place in the oven for 25 minutes.

Slice the cheese. Remove the polenta from the oven and arrange the slices on top. Turn on the oven grill and grill for about five minutes, until the cheese is turning golden and bubbly.

Serve generous labels of ragout over a pile of polenta and grated parmesan over the top.

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@2016 by Lucy Rose Page