What do pastry chefs do when they get together? They eat copious amounts of sugary things because, swear to god and cross my heart, we really do not when we go through our daily business, partly to avoid becoming Mario Batali’s size and partly to stay away from sugar crashes. Besides, when you are exposed to large amounts of sugar, chocolate and whatever else for long stretches of time, really, all you crave is potato chips.
But last Sunday I invited two pastry chefs over to my house, to reminisce about the good old times when we used to work together – just the three of us and a pot of tea…and a German Chocolate Cake, a Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Cranberry Scones, a cheese platter and my humble offering. Well aware that we would overdose on sugar, I made a roasted pepper and eggplant dip to calm our palates down. The food was delicious and I confess I ate every single morsel on my plate without my usual restraint.
I am extremely partial to peppers even if I always regret eating them once the time comes to digest them. But I found out that if you roast them and peel them, whatever enzyme makes digestion problematic gets wiped away.
And now for a bit of history. Peppers are indigenous to Central America and made their way to Europe in 1493, thanks to my compatriot Christopher Columbus who, apparently, is also responsible for the odd name. At the time, anything spicy or pungent was labelled as pepper.
Eggplant, on the other hand (or Aubergine for our French and English friends), is a nightshade (hence related to tomatoes and potatoes) heading from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Funnily enough, it’s categorized as a berry because of the seeds to be found inside which, incidentally, besides being bitter, also contain something called nicotinoid alkaloids which make the eggplant a distant relative of tobacco. Yeah, really.
Although it was already grown in pre-historic times in Asia, the eggplant didn’t reach the Western shores until the 1500’s, probably introduced by the Arabs. As I have a penchant for finding out where words come from, I researched and discovered that some European farmers used to grow a white or pale yellow variety of eggplant that resembled a goose or chicken egg.
As to “aubergine”, it derives from the Catalan “alberginia”, which, in turn, springs from the Arab “al-badinjan”.
If I haven’t made you run for the market, you will once you see how easy the recipe is. And low-fat. Let it sit overnight for the flavors to mix together and dip some toasted pita chips in it.
1 Medium Eggplant
4 Red Bell Peppers
1 Clove of garlic (not peeled)
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
Salt to taste
1. Place the peppers, eggplant and garlic on a baking sheet and roast at 450F for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the skin charred (Remove the garlic after 10 minutes though).
2. Once cooked, place the vegetables in a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic and let cool completely. Then have fun peeling them and removing the seeds. Plastic or surgical gloves are advised because your hands will get stained.At this point, also peel the garlic.
3. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend. Add more oil to thin the consistency if necessary . Add salt to taste. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.