If you live somewhere that gets particularly hot in the summer – and that includes more and more of us, as July has been declared the hottest month in modern history – you might wonder why anyone would suggest that now’s the time to go outside and grill.
The calculation between indoor and outdoor cooking depends on how effective your air conditioning is (if you have any at all), how airtight and efficient your oven might be and just what heights outdoor temperatures have hit. Where would you rather be?
In Washington, D.C., where the temperature as I write is 96, with a heat index of 108, the answer is clear. I’d rather stand over or near my stove and save most of my grilling for the spring and fall – or a rare stretch of mild summer weather if we get it. But that doesn’t mean I want to crank up the oven to 500 degrees for an hour.
Instead, I gravitate toward recipes that require little or no cooking, of course, but also toward those where the oven use is mercifully brief. This bruschetta, from the Jane Goodall Institute’s new book of vegan recipes, employs some smart strategies to keep the oven from overheating your kitchen.
You toast hazelnuts at a moderate 350 degrees, then turn on the broiler for a few minutes, just long enough to cook eggplant slices and toast bread.
After it’s broiled, the eggplant gets a dip in maple syrup and balsamic vinegar, and you pile it onto the bruschetta after smearing it with one of my favorite condiments: skordalia.
This chunky Greek puree is traditionally made with potatoes, but here you make use of the ends of the bread instead, blitzing it in a food processor with those toasted hazelnuts, plus garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and water.
It’s a freewheeling dish – you can top the bruschetta instead with broiled bell peppers, zucchini or other summer squash; or, for something even simpler, ripe in-season tomatoes.
And if your heat tolerance differs from mine – maybe you live somewhere cooler outside and/or hotter inside – feel free to cook the eggplant, or anything else, on the grill. I’ll meet you there in the fall.
Eggplant Bruschetta With Hazelnut Skordalia
Adapted from “Eat Meat Less” by the Jane Goodall Institute (Weldon Owen, 2021).
¾ cup hazelnuts
One (1-pound) oblong loaf sourdough bread
¾ cup water
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 pound small or baby eggplants, stemmed and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ cup shredded radicchio or red lettuce
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Position one rack in the middle of the oven and another in the highest position and preheat to 350 degrees.
Spread the hazelnuts onto a large, rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. While the nuts are still hot, transfer them to a clean dish towel, fold the towel over the nuts and vigorously rub them to loosen and remove as many of the skins as you can; don’t worry if some remain.
Chop ¼ cup of the nuts and reserve for serving. Transfer the remaining whole nuts to a food processor and process until finely ground.
Cut the rounded ends (about 6 ounces total) off the bread and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cut the remaining bread into 8 thick slices and reserve for the bruschetta.
Transfer the 2-inch bread pieces to the food processor with the nuts and process until finely crumbled. Add the water, 4 tablespoons of the oil, garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and ½ teaspoon of the salt and process until smooth. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Turn on the broiler. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt.
Transfer to the same baking sheet you used for the hazelnuts and broil for about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, and toss to coat. Leave the broiler on.
Brush the bread slices on both sides with the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil. Transfer them to the same baking sheet you used for the eggplant and broil until lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Watch carefully to avoid burning.
To serve, spread the skordalia generously on the toasts (about ¼ cup per toast). Top with eggplant slices, radicchio, reserved chopped hazelnut and lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings
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