Undoubtedly, summer is the reigning season for a picnic in Paris. Most of the time, Parisians will stop by their neighborhood traiteur to pick up deli favorites, such as salads, pâtés and dips. One of the most popular of these is caviar d’aubergines, a thick purée of roasted eggplant, so named because it just might be as delicious as the storied fish eggs. Oh, and its color may resemble the lightest and finest caviars, if you squint just right.
Summer is also high season for eggplant. Roasting it yields a surprisingly rich flavor, with just a touch of smoke from the slightly charred skin. Cooking it on the grill increases the smokiness and is a great option on days too hot for the oven. Or if you happen to like smoky flavors, which I do.
Lightened with lemon and fresh herbs, and slightly pungent from garlic and red pepper, this cooling summer dip is equally at home on a picnic blanket or a backyard table. But dolloped on tiny blini or spread thinly on toasted baguette rounds, it can also make an elegant hors d’oeuvre if picnics aren’t your thing.
This is a very versatile recipe, highly adaptable to whatever flavor combinations you like. In fact, if you leave out the rosemary and add a few tablespoons of tahini, you’ve got baba ghanoush, which, along with hummus, is another favorite on Parisian picnics.
Makes about 1 quart/1 liter.
3 medium eggplants (about 1 pound 10 ounces; or 1,200 grams)
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
zest and juice of ½ a lemon
1¼ teaspoons coarse sea salt
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette or hot paprika
3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
leaves from 6 stems of parsley, chopped
1 clove raw garlic, minced (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (205C).
2. Wash the eggplants and prick them all over with a fork. Place them in a large ovenproof dish with the unpeeled garlic cloves, and roast until the skin is browned and wrinkly and the eggplants feel very soft, about an hour. Remove the garlic after about half an hour. Allow the eggplants to cool.
3. When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. If it comes out in very large pieces, chop into 1-inch (about 2-cm) pieces. Discard the skin.
4. Place the eggplant in a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Peel the roasted garlic and add the flesh to the bowl as well. Add the lemon juice and zest, salt, piment d’espelette, olive oil, rosemary and parsley, and blend with an immersion blender or in the food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt, lemon and the raw garlic if desired.
5. Scrape the purée into a serving bowl, cover and chill for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Just before serving, drizzle with a little more olive oil and garnish with extra parsley leaves.
Camille Malmquist is an American pastry chef living and working in Paris. In her spare time, she cooks and bakes at home (believe it or not), as well as tackles the difficult task of trying out as many restaurants and bakeries as possible, then she blogs about her food and travel adventures at Croque-Camille.
Editor’s note: If you are a foodie heading to Paris, why not download one of our three gourmet walking trips?