Traditionally, when you think ragout, you think meat. But in this dish, the eggplant is bold enough to stand on its own as a hearty and deliciously healthy alternative.
Raw eggplant is almost spongy in texture, but when cooked in the oven, the interior gets custard-like. When seared, there's an equally amazing transformation that happens. Known as the Maillard reaction, the sugars and amino acids on the surface of the vegetable caramelize during the browning process. This recipe combines the two methods.
The flesh, used as the base of the ragout, gets mashed with garlic and shallots, and cooks down in red wine. Coins of baby eggplant are seared until dark golden brown and thrown into the ragout halfway through the cooking process, adding a great complexity of flavor and texture to the ragout.
Don’t have an eggplant handy? We recommend trying this with all of your favorite hearty fall vegetables, like mushrooms or squashes. To finish the dish, the ragout is perfect served over creamy polenta and is also great over rice or your favorite shaped pasta.
Eggplant Ragout with Creamy Polenta
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
For the Polenta:
3 cups water
2 cups milk
1 cup polenta
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
For the Eggplant Ragout:
1 pound heirloom baby eggplants
½ (8 ounces) large eggplant, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, peeled and quartered
1 cup olive oil, divided
¼ cup red wine
14 ounces canned whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons basil leaves, chiffonade
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, chiffonade
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Basil leaves, for garnish
Oregano leaves, for garnish
Wild onion blossoms, for garnish (minced chives are a good substitute)
1. Make the polenta: In a large pot, bring the water and the milk to a simmer. Using a whisk, slowly add the polenta, vigorously stirring to avoid clumps. Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook until the polenta is plump and swollen, not grainy, 40 to 50 minutes. Whisk every 7 to 10 minutes to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot or burns. Once the polenta is fully cooked, whisk in the cubes of cold butter one at a time until the butter is fully melted and emulsified into the polenta. Season with white pepper and kosher salt.
2. While the polenta is cooking, prep the eggplant: Slice the heirloom baby eggplants into ½-inch-thick coins, and then roughly chop the large eggplant. Place the peeled eggplant in a food processor along with the garlic and shallots, and purée until smooth.
3. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add ¼ cup of the olive oil. Once the olive oil is hot and the pan is just below smoking, add the coins of baby eggplant. Sear cut-sides down until deep golden brown, 5 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and reserve for later use.
4. In the same sauté pan, heat ½ cup of the olive oil over low heat, add the eggplant purée and sweat until all the moisture has evaporated, 15 to 18 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and simmer until the wine has completely reduced, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and break up the large tomato chunks with a wooden spoon. Mix in the reserved seared eggplant, lemon juice and honey, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the chiffonade of basil and parsley , the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Plate the eggplant ragout over the polenta; garnish with the Parmesan cheese, basil and oregano leaves, wild onion blossoms and a squeeze of a lemon wedge; and serve.