Considering how much time I spend pissing around on the internet (ans: a lot), it's remarkable that I haven't found a way to make my photos on this site any more attractive. All over the webs, food bloggers nonchalantly display gorgeous photos - artfully-rumpled napkin here, faux-casually tilted fork there. Photos so incredible that the food leaps off the screen, out of its elegantly off-focus background and straight into your dinner plans that evening. Smitten Kitchen's photos are so stomach-rumblingly appealing that she sells prints of them, for god's sake. For actual money!
But me? Nope. My pans are battered. My plates are smeared. My tiles are woeful (I blame the previous owners) and my counters are scratched. My hob is all too often spattered with crud - and my stock of antique linens and vintage pewter teaspoons is woefully low. I know, I know, it's a disgrace. I should hand in my food blogger membership card right now.
The fact is, although I wish I could claim that this is a deliberate statement about keeping it real, I'm just too greedy to faff around. Last week, for example, I stumbled across a Pinterest tutorial on how to take beautiful food photography. But when I clicked through (as I obviously did - see earlier comment about pissing around on the internet), the chirpy first line of the tutorial promised that "each shot only takes 10 minutes to set up!". Immediately I clicked the small [x] on the top right of the window. Ten minutes? For each photo? Ten minutes before I get to eat the bloody thing, which is no doubt collapsing or cooling or congealing while I snap? You must be joking, sunshine.
So I apologise for the fact that this looks like a murder in a marshmallow. I wish it were more attractive, truly I do. But what I can promise is that it tasted fantastic. And, honestly, this isn't Great British Bake Off (much as I love it - and oh, I do!). Flavour is the only thing that really matters for a weeknight dinner.
The recipe comes from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day (again) but we were lazy and hungry and streamlined it. Despite our shortcuts, it was still a winner - rich, thick and covered with melted cheese (just how I like my men, guffaw guffaw). Perfect for an Indian summer, for one of the last opportunities to eat outside and the start of a huge harvest at the market. Just a shame it's not more photogenic, really. Has anyone invented Smellovision yet?
Adapted from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day
Serves 3-4 as a side, or 2-3 as the main bit of the meal
- 2 aubergines, sliced lengthways into slices about half a centimetre thick (he says to salt them first, we didn't bother)
- an onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (we whizzed the onion and garlic together in the food processor)
- a bay leaf
- a 700g bottle of passata, or two tins of chopped tomatoes
- a ball of mozzarella, torn into little lumps
- parmesan, pecorino or mature cheddar, at a push
First, preheat the oven to about 180C and get out an oven proof dish which looks big enough to hold it all.
Start by frying the aubergines in olive oil until lightly golden in a wide frying pan or (as we did) a griddle - our decision based purely on aesthetic grounds. They'll slurp up as much oil as you give them, so I'll leave that between you and your conscience (although don't go too wild, it's not great when they're super greasy). Keep frying in batches, draining them on kitchen paper as you go.
While the aubergines are cooking, get out a saucepan and cook the onion and garlic in a splash of oil until soft but not coloured - about 10 minutes. Add the passata/tomatoes, some salt and pepper and the bay leaf, and let the whole lot simmer for about 10 minutes or until you've finished doing the aubergine (he says half an hour, but we were hungry). Beware of the unexpected lava eruptions of tomato sauce, your hob and your arms may be casualties by the end of it.
Place a third of the aubergine slices in the base of your dish, cover with a third of the sauce, then a third of the mozzarella and a good grating of parmesan. Continue in two more layers, finishing off with cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browned. Any leftovers reheat well.