Last of the Sun Food

Aubergines are still in season, which means they are cheap to buy and at their best. When buying aubergines you should look for an unblemished skin and a bright green calyx (the stalk), this will ensure flavour and freshness. Aubergines have often mistakenly been considered bland or even bitter but this would have been the result of incorrect preparation. Nowadays, the newer varieties of aubergines don’t need salting to draw out the bitter juices. However, there is a definite advantage in doing so because pre-salted aubergines will absorb less oil during cooking, giving a less greasy finished dish. This just requires sprinkling a little salt evenly all over the sliced aubergine and leaving it for about ten to 20 minutes to allow the juices to come to the surface. Don’t rinse, just wipe with absorbent kitchen roll.

To extract the best flavours from the aubergines, they should be fried, grilled or roasted with a little olive oil. Fennel also remains in season until the end of October. With its subtle liquorice flavour, fennel makes a perfect accompaniment to fish. It is grown here in Britain now but the best fennel, I have to admit, comes from France and Italy. All the parts of the fennel plant can be eaten – the bulb, the leaves and the seeds from the flowers. Its culinary desirability is matched by its health benefits – fennel is a strong antioxidant with high levels of vitamin C. This menu is inspired by Italian food but given a British slant. All recipes serve 4.


Pasta-Filled Aubergine

4 small aubergines

3 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

400g tin tomatoes

4 large spoonfuls of cooked pasta

150g mozzarella

large handful fresh basil

large handful curly parsley

salt and black pepper

If you want to find a way to use up yesterday’s  pasta, this is your answer. I like to use a short pasta for this recipe, such as maccheroncini, tubetti or gnocchetti sardi. Preheat the oven 200C, 400F or Gas 6. Bake the aubergines whole for 20-30 minutes or until they are completely tender all the way through. While they are cooking, fry the onion in the oil until soft and then add the garlic, tomatoes and seasoning. Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes. When the aubergines are ready, slit them two thirds of the way round, leaving the stalk in place. Scoop out the flesh on to a plate and roughly mash with a fork. Tip into the pan with the sauce and stir well. Add the cooked pasta, roughly diced mozzarella and the herbs. Adjust the seasoning and then fill the aubergine shells with the pasta mixture. Serve straight away.


Baked Fennel

3 bulbs of fennel

50g unsalted butter

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp freshly-grated Parmesan

salt and black pepper

pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven 240C, 475F or Gas 9. Cut each head of fennel in half through the length of the bulb. Remove any tough or damaged outer leaves and cut out the core. Trim the leaves and stalks of the bulb and put into a saucepan with enough water to just cover the fennel. Salt the water and simmer gently until the bulbs begin to soften but retain an al dente texture. Carefully drain the water from the pan and place each half in a shallow, ovenproof dish. Season well with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt the butter and distribute evenly over the fennel. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.