Region: Spain, Catalonia
Difficulty: Easy but labor intensive
Escalivar means "to cook in hot ashes." Typically the vegetables in an escalivada are grilled, and the dish is served with grilled meats. Mountain shepherds were adept at packing their rucksacks with some cheese and wine, perhaps, and building a hardwood fire near a revetment of their sheep's pasture where they could grill a medley of vegetables. Some writers call this a Catalan- style ratatouille but escalivada more closely resembles the Tunisian salata mishwiyya, to which it may be historically related. The excellence of this dish comes from absolutely fresh vegetables. Since not everyone has a grill, I provide this alternative to grilling; otherwise, pull out the grill and follow the variation below. The photo depicts the grilled version.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
Preparation Time: 2 hours
1. Lay the eggplant slices on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave them to drain of their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry with more paper towels.
2. Preheat the frying oil in a deep-fryer or an 8-inch diameter saucepan with a basket insert to 375 degrees F.
3. Fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and let cool. Let the frying oil cool completely, strain, and save for a future use.
4. In a large flameproof baking casserole, heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over a medium heat, then cook the onion until translucent, 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant slices, bell pepper, tomatoes, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix gently. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and bake uncovered for 1 hour. Let cool, then serve with the vinaigrette poured over.
Variation: Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high. Grill the whole unpeeled and uncored green pepper until its skin blisters black, about 45 minutes. Slip off the skin, remove the core and seeds, and cut into quarters. Pat dry the eggplant after leeching its bitter juices, brush with olive oil, and grill until the pieces have attractive grid marks, about 10 minutes on each side. Boil the whole onion in water to cover for 10 minutes. Peel, split in half, brush with oil, and grill for 30 minutes over a low or dying fire until it is browned and easily pierced with a fork. Mix the grilled pepper, eggplant, and onion and serve with the vinaigrette.