Eggplant El Greco & the Euro 2012 Quarter Finals

17 Jun

The Greeks made it through yesterday to the Euro 2012 quarter finals, beating Russia 1-0.  A collective cheer resounded in the largest Greek cities and the smallest mountain and island villages.  Greece had gone into the game with high but shaky hopes, after being defeated by the Czechs 2-1, and drawing 1-1 against Poland in the first game.

During the match against Poland, I had been sitting in a small Athens taverna called Ithake, located in the Plaka on Mitropoleos Street  right across from the famous church.  About a dozen outdoor tables were covered in blue and white checkered tablecloths, and the manager worked the passing tourists, promising them the best lamb and chicken gyros in town.  A flat-screen television had been set up outside, tuned to the game.  When Greece made its one and only goal, deafening cheers erupted from the customers crowded around the screen – cheers that were echoed up and down the streets as most of Athens responded.  There were no demonstrations at Syntagma Square that evening.

I watched the game, the spectators and the tourists.  I had come to Ithake because I knew it was cheap and I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a gyro.  The restaurant is never mentioned in any of the guidebooks, but the manager was working hard to draw in customers and more than half the tables were full, so I obliged.

I was in for a surprise.  I looked quickly passed the gyros on the menu and noticed it listed Immam Baldi , a delicate stuffed aubergine dish —  and  one of the few eggplant dishes that I can not only eat, but that I also enjoy.  I knew there was no way it could be as good as my grandmother’s, but I was willing to settle for “pretty good” and decided to give it a try.

But as luck would have it, they were completely out.  As I ran my eyes once again over the menu, the waiter mentioned that he did have something else – Eggplant El Greco.  I had no idea what that could be, but I nodded my assent and after about 15 minutes (during which I happily sipped a glass of cool white wine, munched on bread, and watched the game and the people-watching-the-game), a piping hot clay baking dish, layered with eggplant, fragrant tomato sauce, and layers of bubbling golden brown Gouda, arrived.

The dish reminded me of Immam Baldi with its savory onions and tender eggplants; it reminded me of soutzoukakia with its hint of cinnamon; it reminded me of moussaka with its steaming layers; it reminded me of nothing Greek I had ever eaten at home with its crown of golden Gouda.  It reminded me of so many wonderful Greek dishes and possible Greek dishes that I came back to Ithake two more times, each time ordering the same thing.  I told the manager that he should give up the gyro script and try enticing tourists with promises of the best Eggplant El Greco in town, but somehow he didn’t think it had the same ring.  He knows his business – attracting customers.  So I’ll stick to mine.

Now if I were writing a different kind of blog offering recipes for “American” football game-watching get-togethers , I might offer more typical tail-gating, chip-munching, beer-drinking fare.  But for me, watching “the game” will now firmly be associated with eating Eggplant El Greco on blue-and-white checkered tablecloths with a glass of cool white wine in the company of very friendly – and loudly enthusiastic – strangers.  Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to Greece’s next game in the Euro 2012 contest!

This recipe might remind you a bit of the moussaka recipe I posted not too long ago.  But it’s quite different – unlike the moussaka recipe, it doesn’t have potatoes, ground lamb, or béchamel sauce – but it does have lots and lots of Gouda!

My version of Ithake’s Eggplant El Greco.

Eggplant El Greco (my version).  For two.

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 2 Tablespoons flavorful extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (or you can grate fresh tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¾ – 1 cup grated Gouda
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel and cut the eggplant into ¼ inch slices.  Place each slice in a single layer on a cutting board or plate, and sprinkle with salt.  Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking.  Lay eggplant slices in a single layer in the pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Brush the top side with a bit more olive oil, turn the eggplant, and cook for another 5 minutes or so until slices are just tender (you may need to add a little bit more oil in the pan).  When done, remove from pan and place in a single layer on a plate.

Make the sauce:  heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet.  Add diced onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.  Add cinnamon and stir.  Add tomatoes (if the diced tomatoes are too big for your liking, quickly run them through a small food processor or blender to break them up), sugar, red wine, water and salt and pepper.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until sauce has reduced by about half.

Assemble:  Coat the bottom of two individual baking dishes or one small (enough for two people) ceramic baking dish with a light layer of olive oil.  Place the eggplant slices on the bottom, overlapping a bit to form a single layer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon enough of the tomato sauce over the eggplant to cover generously (about ½ inch or so).  Sprinkle grated Gouda over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking 5 more minutes or until cheese is a light golden brown.

Let sit for a few minutes and serve with crusty bread.

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2 Responses to “Eggplant El Greco & the Euro 2012 Quarter Finals”

  1. lwalkush June 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    This recipe sounds SO delectable! I cannot wait to try it!

  2. Brian June 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    Looks wonderful! Have us over to sample it. 🙂

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