I’m into a new home cooking concept: Fancy Apps. I’m not talking about two-bite hors d’oeuvres or individually plated first courses— just something simple to share before a meal that tastes good and looks pretty (and is not my usual bowl of Parmesan Goldfish). There’s something about having a delicious, visually appealing appetizer that makes the whole meal feel a little more special. A little more restaurant-y. A little more OUT OF THE HOUSE, but in the house. Still in the house…
A Fancy App doesn’t need to be complicated at all. In fact, it should be easy and stress-free, so you’re not making the rest of the meal more difficult for yourself as a cook. Fancy Hummus (which is just good store-bought hummus with toppings) with some beautiful raw vegetables makes an excellent Fancy App. Sometimes I toast my own pita chips with spices. Sometimes I don’t. (Do you know Stacy?) Burrata with Tomatoes Two Ways would make an excellent Fancy App. Let’s stick with that Italian vibe for a minute and talk about this Warm Eggplant Salad, the latest addition to my Fancy App repertoire.
Salads that mix warm and cold elements are very exciting to me. They’re more satisfying and a little more chef-y (in a good way) than your typical mixed greens. The base of this salad is pan fried eggplant. Then I use my hands to tear cold, fresh mozzarella and basil over the top— I love the rustic look for this dish. Finish with some tart pickled shallots and bright lemon zest to balance the heavier ingredients and you’re good to go. Simple, easy, delicious, pretty— everything I want in food these days. Enjoy!
- 1 small eggplant
- freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
- half of a small shallot, thinly sliced
- half of a lemon
- 1 sprig fresh basil (about 4-5 leaves), plus more for garnish if you like
Prepare the eggplant. Cut off the stem and use a vegetable peeler or a pairing knife to remove about half of the skin, resulting in thick stripes of alternating skin and flesh. Cut into ¾ inch cubes, generously season with salt and set on a plate to sweat for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw moisture out of the eggplant, collapsing some of the air pockets inside. This process helps the flesh to absorb less oil when cooking.
Rinse the eggplant and pat to dry well. There is no need to season it further. Preheat a large non-stick sauté pan with olive oil– about three turns of the pan– over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant and let cook undisturbed until deeply golden brown, about five minutes. Start to stir occasionally until some of the remaining sides brown and the eggplant is cooked through, about five more minutes.
While the eggplant is cooking, place the sliced shallot into a small bowl. Squeeze the juice of the half-lemon over the top, stir and set aside. Keep the lemon– we’ll use it for its zest later.
When the eggplant is fork-tender and somewhat silky, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towel to remove any excess oil. Replace it to a serving platter. Use your hands to tear the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces and scatter it over the top. Add pickled shallots to your liking, letting some of the lemon juice spill onto the salad. Zest the lemon over the top, and finish with torn basil (use your hands again!) Serve immediately.