Last night we had some friends over for dinner, and I made this to go with slow-cooked lamb shanks and roast spuds. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, looking at the cheerful faces of my dear old friends as they sat around the table. One of them was shot, just a week ago, through the arm and chest, in a garden in the Northern Suburbs of Jo'burg, by a gang of armed robbers who 'gatecrashed' a Father's Day family lunch. That he survived is a miracle; that he was eating a hearty supper a week later is astounding. Another man at the table, who has been a dear friend of mine since my school days, also took a bullet (in a more intimate spot) a few years ago, also in Joeys, in drive-by shooting. A third guest, another dear school friend, was hijacked a few years back at gunpoint. And all of us feasting and making merry, as if this is a perfectly normal way to live. Only in South Africa.
Back to the recipe. I'm far too lazy to stand at the stove frying aubergine slices, so I grill/bake them instead. Provided that the oven is hot enough, they turn out beautifully browned, but aren't sodden with oil.
Warm Grilled Aubergine Slices with Chilli and Pesto
4 large, shining aubergines
3/4 cup olive oil
milled black pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
juice of 4 lemons
2 anchovy fillets
5 tablespoons basil pesto
1 tsp red chilli flakes (or more, to taste)
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the grill of your oven until it's blazing hot. Remove the tops of the aubergines and slice, vertically, into pieces about 1 cm thick. Rub the base of two baking sheets with a olive oil. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets (it doesn't matter if they overlap slightly here or there). With your hands, rub the uppermost surface of each slice with a film of olive oil. They should be evenly coated, but not soaked. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Put the aubergines in the oven and grill for ten minutes, or until they're golden brown and beginning to char on the edges. Now turn the oven down to 180 C and cook for another 10-20 minutes, or until the slices are soft and unctuous.
In the meantime, make the dressing. Put the garlic, lemon juice, anchovy fillets, pesto and chili flakes into the goblet of a blender, and pulse until the mixture is smooth. If you don't have a blender, mash the garlic with the anchovies until you have a very smooth paste, and stir in the remaining dressing ingredients. Taste the dressing and add salt if necessary (the anchovies are usually salty enough in their own right).
Remove the hot aubergine slices from the baking sheets (use a palette knife if they stick). Put a glug of the dressing on the bottom of a nice flat dish and spread it out. Add a layer of brinjal slices, and drizzle over more dressing, using your fingers to make sure that every slice is coated. Continue alternating layers of dressing and brinjal, ending with a good drizzle of dressing. Grind over some more black pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm, with lemon wedges.
Serves 6 as a side dish.