This was my first time cooking with a courgette also know as a zucchini. I remember picking up my first courgette thinking it was a cucumber on one very hurried day as I tried to wrap up groceries before the kids got home. I said to myself: “Cucumber sure looks different in Singapore”. I sliced through it with the same thoughts and it wasn’t a cucumber, but I had no clue what it was. Eventually I threw it away as I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t even know its name. Well, today I’m wiser I must say, (I hope).
The courgette, is a variety of cucurtbit, which means it’s from the same family as cucumber, squash and melon. It is the most popular vegetable of the squash family; being extremely versatile, tender and easy to cook.
When a friend asked me to make a vegetarian meal for her daughter I had to frantically search for recipes. It had never occurred to me, to ever make anything without meat, but that’s another story. In my search for the perfect vegetarian dish, I came across this recipe in the Guardian newspaper. It looked beautiful in pictures and I thought to myself: “This is sure to impress a crowd”. I didn’t make the recipe for her as I couldn’t find courgette that day; a strangely Singaporean phenomenon to not find an ingredient that you desperately seek in any of the shops that you visit.
My first attempt with the cake and it looked nothing like the one I had admired in the picture. I was delighted I hadn’t tried making it for dinner with my friend! My son called it “the ugly cake”. The taste was pleasant, though I felt it was a bit bland for my South Asian taste buds. The aubergine slice was not grilled well and tasted mushy.
Well, time for the second attempt. There was some improvement but the taste still needed some work.
The third attempt and I was quite pleased with the results. I took it to a Christmas party with my son and I got some very encouraging feedback. The base recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi and I have made a few changes.
Courgette Aubergine Cake
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi
- 3 courgettes, coarsely grated
- 3 aubergines, cut into 1.5cm-thick circles
- 4 tbsp olive oil, plus 2 tsp for brushing the tin
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp mixed herbs
- 50g pine nuts, toasted in pan
- 300g greek yoghurt
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 30g parmesan, finely grated
- 30g cheddar cheese, finely grated
- 3 eggs, separated
- 50g fresh white breadcrumbs
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 220C. Line an 8 inch cake tin with baking paper and brush generously with oil.
Mix the grated courgettes in 1/2 tsp salt and place in a colander over a bowl for 20 minutes. Transfer the salted courgettes to the centre of a clean tea towel, draw up the sides, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the squeezed courgettes (you should have about 200g worth) in a bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the aubergine slices in 2 tbsp oil, 1/4 tsp salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Spread out the aubergines on two oven trays lined with foil (brushed generously with oil). Turn on the oven grill to setting 1(or the lowest setting in your oven for the grill), and place one tray in the centre and the other tray in the bottom rack. Grill for 20 minutes or till golden-brown. Half way through, swap the trays and rotate them for an even grilling. The aubergines should acquire a toasted, red-brown color. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, arrange the aubergine slices (with toasted side facing down and outwards), in a spiral on the base of the cake tin, so the slices overlap and cover the base completely. This will allow the cake to color nicely.
Turn down the oven to 180C.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium-sized frying pan on a medium-high heat. Then fry the onion for seven minutes, until soft and starting to turn golden-brown. Add the garlic, paprika and herbs. Saute for one more minute, until the garlic begins to turn slightly brown, then add this mixture to the courgette bowl.
Now add the pine nuts, yoghurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, parmesan, cheddar, egg yolks, breadcrumbs, 1/4 tsp salt and plenty of pepper, and mix well to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites till they form soft peaks. Now gently fold them into the courgette mix until just combined. Spoon the entire mixture over the aubergines in the cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes, until the cake is golden-brown, then set aside to cool.
Once cooled, release the cake from its tin and invert on to a plate, so the aubergines are now sitting on top. Remove the baking paper, and serve warm or at room temperature. Personally, I preferred it at room temperature.