Aubergine can be an excellent substitute for meat.

The aubergines in my greenhouse are now small but perfectly formed, with glossy, purple skins. In Sicily, they’re called “poor man’s steak” and are, indeed, a fitting substitute for meat in these recipes.

Sicilian caponata filo pie (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 chopped aubergines
  • 2tspn dried oregano
  • 2 chopped red onions
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 chopped stick celery
  • A handful fresh torn basil
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 50g toasted pine nuts
  • 50g capers
  • 2tbspn red-wine vinegar
  • Zest of 1 lemon, plus a little juice
  • 6 sheets filo pastry
  • 50g melted butter
  • Fresh rocket to serve

Method
Preheat your oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6. Arrange the chunks of aubergine on a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of oregano, then roast for about 25 minutes or until completely cooked—I find that roasting prevents the aubergine from becoming greasy.

In a large saucepan, fry the red onions in a splash of olive oil until soft. Stir in the garlic, celery, basil and tomatoes and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.

Once cooked, add the aubergine to the pan with the toasted pine nuts, capers and red-wine vinegar and mix well (it’s the vinegar that gives a caponata its distinctive, sweet-and-sour flavour). Finally, add the lemon zest and a little juice to taste, plus a splash of water to loosen everything if needed.

Spoon the caponata into an ovenproof dish—or divide between individual dishes—and top with scrunched-up sheets of buttered filo pastry, ensuring that the surface of the pie is entirely covered. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes—the filo should be lightly browned. Serve the caponata pie with fresh rocket and a glass of Chianti.

More ways with aubergine

Sicilian caponata filo pieAubergine rolls with pesto, sundried tomatoes and mozzarella
Slice 2 aubergines lengthways and roast for about 20 minutes, until soft. Once cool, brush one of the slices with pesto, add a piece of mozzarella and a couple of sundried tomatoes to one end and roll up. Repeat with the other slices. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a couple of hours.

Spiced-aubergine and coconut curry
Slice 2 large aubergines into rounds, arrange in a single layer on a baking tray and drizzle with coconut oil. Roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes, turning the slices over after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fry 2 chopped red onions in coconut oil with a crushed clove of garlic, a teaspoon of turmeric and a sliced red chilli. Pour in a can of tomatoes and mix well. Once cooked, add the aubergine to the pan with a tin of coconut cream—take care not to boil or the cream will split. Scatter coriander over it and serve with rice.

Aubergine and pomegranate-seed salad with an anchovy-and-yoghurt dressing
On a baking tray, arrange 2 sliced aubergines on top of 3 chopped red onions, 2 sliced cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of fresh oregano and a handful of basil. Season and roast for 20 minutes or until soft, then leave to cool. Once cool, mix in a bowl with pieces of buffalo mozzarella, pomegranate seeds and rocket. For the dressing, blitz together 4 anchovies, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white-wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of plain yoghurt. Pour over the salad, toss well, season to taste and serve.