Food in the oven always signals the arrival of Winter, no matter what the date is. Firstly I make the Rice Pudding that my Grandmothers and Mother made, baked until it forms a crusted top. This is followed by an array of baked dishes, many of them featuring pasta.
Today’s dish is a pasta one – using orzo, that rice shaped pasta that is divine in salads too. It is a variation of an Ottolenghi recipe that I have converted to a vegetarian dish. It is quite divine! And easy to make with mostly common ingredients. If you don’t have the tamarind, leave it out. Or add a tspn dark miso.
Orzo and Eggplant Bake
ingredients for 6 or more
60ml olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium-large eggplant, cut into 1cm cubes
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
0.5 tspn chilli flakes
2 tspn soy sauce
1 small tspn tamarind concentrate, or equivalent of syrup
2 Tblspn capers
1.5 preserved lemons, flesh discarded and skin thinly sliced into strips (about 12g)
70g pitted olives, roughly torn or chopped in half
1 Tblspn tomato paste
1 tin chopped tomatoes
sea salt and black pepper
1-2 tomatoes, cut into ½cm-thick rounds
40g parmesan, or 80g feta or halloumi, grated or crumbled. Or use hard or soft mozzarella.
a scattering of rocket leaves
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Put 3 Tblspn of oil into a large, ovenproof saute pan for which you have a lid, and heat on a medium-high flame. (Or use your favourite saute pan and before the dish goes into the oven, transfer the mixture to your favourite oven proof dish.)
Add the onion to the oil and eggplant cubes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about eight minutes, or until the onion is softened and browned. Add the garlic and chilli, cook for a minute more until fragrant, then stir in the capers, half the lemon, 45g of the olives, soy sauce and tamarind, tomato paste, tinned tomatoes, orzo, 450ml water, a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Bring to a simmer, then cover. (Or transfer the eggplant mix to an ovenproof dish and cover with foil.) Transfer to the oven for 20 minutes or until the orzo is cooked through
Turn up the oven to 230C.
Lift the lid off the pan, then haphazardly top the mixture with the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle over the cheese and return to the oven, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes, or until bubbling and lightly browned. Remove, leave to rest for about 10 minutes, then top with the remaining olives and preserved lemon, the rocket leaves and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Serve straight from the pot/dish.
recipe notes and alternatives
Instead of tinned tomatoes and tomato paste, use a good Italian passata.