Grilled eggplant (also known as aubergine) with garlic and fresh herbs is a typical Sicilian dish, usually making an appearance as a starter or a side.
The dish, known as “melanzane arrostite” in Italian, which liteally means “roasted eggplant”, (eggplants are known as “melanzane” in Italian and “arrostite” means “roasted) is traditionally made with Sicilian eggplants.
Aubdantly available in Sicily (or Sicilia in Italian), eggplants were first introduced to this charming Southern Italian island by Arabs from the Middle East, and today the largest Italian cultivation of eggplants is in Sicily.
The Arabs ruled Sicily in 827 to 1091 and they had a profound influence on Sicily’s agriculture and cuisine, introducing new crops such as rice and sugarcane and enhancing Sicilian cuisine through the introduction of ingredients such as eggplants, apricots, pistachios, sesame seeds and saffron, foods such as sherbet, and introducing new cookery methods such as candy making.
With a thriving cultivation of fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, less than a century after the Arab occupation, Sicily came to be known as the ‘Garden Island of Southern Europe’.
Native to the Mediterranean, oregano, known as “origano” in Italian, is the dominant herb in Southern Italian cuisine but is not so throughout the rest of Italy where parsely and basil are more commonly used. Oregano is more flavorful dried than fresh.
Slicing the eggplants to the correct thickness is an important step for a successful outcome. The eggplant slices must be well cooked through, yet it should not be dried out. Too thin and the slices are likely to burn or dry out. Too thick and the slices may cook faster outside than inside. 1 cm or 1/2 an inch is about the ideal thickness.
This Sicilian dish is not only healthy but delicious too.
Preparation time: 30 – 40 minutes
Total time: 5 hours
- 3-4 Sicilian eggplants
- 4-5 tablespoons or as desired extra virgin olive oil
- 3-4 tablespoons Italian red wine vinegar
- Coarse sea salt
- 1-2 cloves garlic – finely minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dried Sicilian oregano as desired
- Fresh herbs (mint or parsely or basil) – roughly chopped
Slice the eggplant into circles, about 1 cm thick. Too thin and the eggplant will dry out. Too thick and the eggplant wouldn’t be cooked inside.
Sprinkle a generous quantity of coarse sea salt on the eggplant slices and toss well with hands to ensure the slices are evenly coated.
Let eggplant sit until it releases some of its juices (about 30-40 minutes).
Prepare marinade: in a baking tray, combine olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, chopped herbs, salt and ground black pepper in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Take out the eggplants and rinse the salt off them.
Squeeze excess water, pat dry and set aside.
Heat a charcoal grill over medium heat.
Generously brush eggplant slices both sides with olive oil.
Place the eggplant slices on the hot grill.
Grill the eggplants both sides, till they are cooked but are are not dried out. When the bottom sides are cooked flip them over and cook the other side.
Transfer the cooked eggplant slices into the baking tray with the marinade prepared earlier.
Ensure the slices are well coated with the marinade.
Transfer the eggplant slices to a serving plate.
Drizzle any leftover marinade over the slices.
Set aside at room temperature for 3-4 hours to allow the flavors to meld before serving.
Serve with crusty bread.