Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Spiced Eggplant and Couscous Filling

Coucous Tomato Dolma

At this time of year I always have a surge of wanderlust. After all the holiday festivities and seasonal cocooning, the calendar turns a page, and I find myself looking ahead to a new year of infinite possibilities and potential travel.  Yet, while my imagination is packing its passport, reality dictates that I stay put, at least for the moment.  Children need to be delivered to school, money must be saved, work deadlines have to be met. So, I turn to the kitchen for a little escape. After all, if I can’t jump on the next airplane, at least I can transport my palate to a far-flung destination.

These stuffed tomatoes do just that. They are a variation of Middle Eastern dolmas.  Dolmas are vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant that are stuffed with rice or bulghur, spices and sometimes ground meat.  Meatless dolmas are served cold or at room temperature, while meat dolmas are served warm. This is my version in which I have added feta and sautéed eggplant to the filling for extra body and flavor.  They are best eaten at room temperature, and can be made a day in advance. They are also guaranteed to bring a little exotic warmth to your dinner plate.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Spiced Eggplant and Couscous Filling

These are a lovely light dish or accompaniment to roasted meat, fish or chicken. Makes 8.


10 vine-ripened tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 cup couscous
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed, peeled, finely chopped
1 small green pepper, stemmed, seeded, ribs removed, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, plus additional leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon harissa sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 lbs. (350 g.) feta cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice


Selet 8 tomatoes that have the best presentation.  Slice off the tops. Scoop out the centers with a spoon, taking care not to pierce the outer flesh. Lightly salt the inside of the tomatoes and turn upside down on a plate. Set aside with tops reserved.

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut remaining 2 tomatoes in half.   Remove seeds and stems.  Finely dice the tomatoes and place in a large bowl.
Bring stock to boil in a sauce pan. Add couscous, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt and remove from heat.  Let steam, covered, for 5 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add chopped eggplant. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté until softened and turning golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl with tomatoes.
Fluff couscous with fork and add to bowl with tomatoes and eggplant. Add shallots, green pepper, garlic, chopped mint, harissa, cumin and cinnamon. Stir to combine well.
Set aside 2 tablespoons crumbled feta. Gently stir remaining feta into couscous. Taste to see if more salt is needed.
Blot the inside of the whole tomatoes gently with a paper towel. Fill the centers with the couscous. Top with reserved feta.
Arrange tomatoes in a lightly oiled baking dish. Drizzle additional olive oil over tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until cheese is golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove and allow tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
Before serving, drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and reserved tomato tops.

Couscous Eggplant

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis

Summer Tian

Tiring of Ratatouille?  I am a big fan of the Provençal-inspired stew of summer vegetables, but by the end of August I find myself seeking cues for inspiration in a hungry quest for different ways to use the heaps of squash, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes harvested from our summer gardens.  So, prompted by this month’s Grow Your Own event hosted by Andrea’s Recipes, armed with a shiny new lime-green enameled cast iron pan, and inspired by a scrumptious article on tians in my favorite French magazine, Côté Sud,  I decided to create a Provençal Vegetable Tian with homegrown heirloom tomatoes and basil.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tian is the the French word for a casserole baked in an earthenware dish, layered with seasonal vegetables and cheese.  Originating in the south of France, and possibly influenced by the North African couscous pot, the ingredients are decoratively arranged and slow cooked for simple, rustic, flavorful results.  What better way to present a typically Provençal selection of vegetables than in a tian?  The sliced veggies are tossed in a coulis of puréed basil leaves, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil to give moisture and the unmistakable flavor of summer.  Crumbled soft goat cheese adds a creamy, tangy depth to this vegetarian dish.  Baked until the vegetables are tender but not too soft, this tian is delicious straight from the oven or even the next day.  Just like a good ratatouille – but different.

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis
Serves 4-6

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium, firm eggplant/aubergine, stemmed, quartered lengthwise, cut in 1/2″ thick slices

3 large ripe vine or heirloom tomatoes, cut in 1/2″ thick slices
2 small yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red or orange sweet peppers, halved, seeded, cut in 2″ square pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/4″ thick slices
1 medium yellow squash or 2-3 large patty pan squash, cut in 1/4″ thick slices
6 oz. (180 grams) fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Prepare Basil Coulis:
Combine basil and garlic in bowl of food processor. While the machine is running, pour in 1/3 cup (80 ml.) oil in steady stream until consistency resembles a vinaigrette; add more oil if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Grill Eggplant:
Arrange eggplant slices in one layer on oven tray.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill in oven until eggplant turns golden brown and softens, about 8 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Assemble Tian:
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.)
Lightly oil an earthenware baking/gratin dish.  In a large bowl, toss slices of grilled eggplant, tomatoes, onions, zucchini and yellow squash with 3/4 of the basil coulis.  Arrange slices overlapping on the diagonal in baking dish.  Crumble goat cheese over vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in oven 50 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool briefly.  Drizzle remaining basil coulis over tian.  Garnish with whole basil leaves.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


Grilled Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks with Basil and Tomato Coulis

Grilled Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks with Basil and Tomato Coulis

Eggplant Sandwich TasteFood

Eggplants love the grill, and I love to grill eggplants – or aubergines as they are so elegantly referred to in other countries. Eggplants comes in many sizes and shapes, while the most common variety is the plump, pear-shaped and, well, aubergine colored vegetable found year round in our markets.

When it comes to the barbecue the versatile, yet subtle, eggplant is the workhorse of grilled vegetables. Its mellow, buttery flavor and firm texture lends well to the barbecue, as it hold its shape during grilling and serves as a perfect vehicle for spicy, smoky, flamboyant flavors. Eggplants may be simply prepared with olive oil, salt and pepper and served in stand-alone fashion – or tossed with a medley of Provençal-style vegetables as a grilled accompaniment to meat and fish.  Cut in planks, and use as a vessel for a dollop of creamy tsatsiki for an easy crowd-friendly appetizer – or stack grilled slices with tomato, basil and goat cheese for an impressive beginning to a dinner.

This recipe is easy to prepare, delicious and fresh to eat. The smoky eggplant combines beautifully with cool garlicky goat cheese, juicy sweet tomatoes and crisp fresh basil leaves.  Serve as an elegant appetizer or on a bed of arugula for a dramatic salad.

Grilled Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks with Basil and Tomato Coulis

Makes 8 stacks

1 to 2  narrow, firm eggplants, sliced horizontally 1/4-inch thick to yield 16 slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups soft goat cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced horizontally 1/4-inch thick to yield 8 slices
16 large basil leaves
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup tomato coulis (see below)

Prepare Eggplant:
Preheat oven broiler or prepare grill. Lightly brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrrange on baking tray and broil in oven, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. (Or grill over direct medium heat until charred and tender, turning once, 6 to 8 minutes). Transfer to plate to cool.

Arrange Stacks:
Whisk goat cheese, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl.
Arrange 1/2 of the eggplant slices on a platter.  Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons goat cheese over the eggplant, then top with 1 basil leaf. Place a tomato slice over the basil and spread 1 to 2 teaspoons goat cheese over the tomato. Place a second eggplant slice over the goat cheese. Top with one teaspoon goat cheese and basil leaf.  Lightly drizzle 2 to 3 teaspoons Tomato Coulis over and around the eggplant stack. Garnish with one teaspoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  Serve immediately.

Heirloom Tomatoes TasteFood

Tomato Coulis:
Makes about 1 cup

1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded (see below), coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine tomatoes, garlic and olive oil in bowl of food processor.  Process until smooth.  Add salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for one hour before serving.  (Coulis may be made one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate). Serve at room temperature.

Cooking Class – How to Peel and Seed a Tomato:

1.  Take a paring knife and cut out the stem: Make shallow incisions around the stem and scoop out the stem.
2.  With same knife, make a shallow X-incision in bottom of tomato.
3.  Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil.  Plunge tomato into water for 10 seconds.  Remove and submerge in a bowl of ice water.
4.  Remove the cooled tomato from the water.  Peel away skin.
5.  To seed the tomato, cut the tomato in half.  Use your fingers to scoop out seeds.


Spaghetti alla Norma: Sicilian-Style Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta

Alla norma

This divine Sicilian pasta dish often elicits the question: Who is Norma?  Theories abound, and one of them is that the dish was named in honor of Bellini, a native of Catania, Sicily.  Bellini’s opera “Norma” was so popular with his compatriots, that it inspired the creation of a new superlative – una vera Norma – to sing praise of any good deed or object.  Years later, the author Nino Martaglio tasted this traditional dish from Sicily and was so delighted by it that he called in Spaghetti alla Norma.  You will agree that this dish is una vera Norma.

Sicilian-Style Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta  Spaghetti alla Norma
Serves 4

1 large firm eggplant (aubergine)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
I small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz./800 g. can Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Pinch of sugar

1 lb./500 g. dried spaghetti

1/2 cup shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut in slivers

Prepare the eggplant:
Trim ends.  Cut horizontally in 1/4″ slices. Arrange in one layer on baking tray.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill in oven, turning once, until browned and softened.  Remove.  Cut the slices in thirds.  Set aside.

Prepare tomato sauce:
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until it begins to give off juices, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté one minute.  Add tomatoes with juices and oregano.  Simmer 10 minutes, stirring to break up tomatoes.  Add sugar.  Stir in eggplant slices and simmer additional 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add spaghetti and cook until al dente.  Drain.  Return spaghetti to pot and add eggplant mixture.  Add 1/2 cup ricotta salata.  Toss to combine.  Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves, slivers of buffalo mozzarella cheese and extra ricotta salata.