One afternoon last year the husband and I met up with an out-of-town friend at a little Italian joint on the Lower East Side. This place has some killer gnocchi, delicious fried zucchini and wood-fire roasted pizzas. We ordered an array of food (really far too much for 3 people, but we are a group that loves their food) including pastas, pizza and vegetables. Slowly items started hitting the table and we dug in as the conversation and the wine flowed freely. After everything else was in front of us and partially consumed, out came our final dish: the roasted eggplant. It had been roasted whole in the wood fire oven. It was presented to us by our server, not unlike a whole fish would be, before he placed it in front of us and cut it in half, allowing the creamy interior to come bursting forth. He drizzled it with both an extra virgin olive oil and a roasted chili oil and told us to enjoy. Already impressed, I dug in, unprepared for the pure joy that was about to enter my mouth. This simple dish remains to this day one of my favorite bites in the city and rarely does a week go by without me craving it.
I have tried to recreate this scrumptious offering in my home a few times. It never quite gets all the way there as I don't have my own wood fire oven (yet--one day I promise myself I will out in my backyard!), but it at least satiates my cravings and is still wonderful in its own right. This last time around I decided to boost up the flavor and richness slightly by adding a good dollop of creamy, thick Greek yogurt and a good sprinkling of chipotle chili flakes, which helped give it a smoky edge. Served up with crispy pita it makes an ideal light, easy dinner or the perfect dinner party appetizer.
Smoky Roasted Eggplant with Pita Crisps
serves 1-2 as entree or 3-4 as appetizer
1 large or 2 medium eggplants
3 garlic cloves, chopped into large pieces
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 TB Greek yogurt
chipotle chili pepper flakes
fleur de sel
extra virgin olive oil
4 pieces flatbread or pita
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Clean the eggplants and pierce the skin in multiple places with a sharp knife. Place the garlic pieces into some of the holes (in my photo you see the garlic sticking out of the skin--you don't want to do this or the garlic will burn. Push the garlic pieces all the way in so they are flush with the skin of the eggplant).
Rub the eggplants all over with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast until it is soft and starting to collapse (time will vary drastically on this depending on size and freshness of eggplants. It will probably take at least an hour, but check after 45 minutes for the first time and every 15 minutes or so until they are ready). Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a couple of minutes while you prepare the pita crisps.
Cut each piece of pita/flatbread into 6 wedges. Brush on both sides with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Place under the broiler to toast, then flip and toast the other side. Remove to a plate.
Finish off the eggplant: Place on a platter and cut in half (leaving the bottom part of the skin that touches the plate intact is fine and recommended). Sprinkle with the zest and juice of the lemon, then dollop on the Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with chipotle chili flakes, fleur de sel, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. To eat, scoop out some of the eggplant filling with the toppings and eat with the pita crisps (this time around the eggplant skin will go unconsumed).