02 Sep Melanzana Toastie
When I was in school, one of my more naturally entrepreneurial friends set up a Toastie Company for their transition year mini-company. They were wildly successful, and our friends became the mini-oligarchs of our school, always having money to buy smokes and illicit pints of beer in the pubs in town that turned a blind eye to our age.
Perhaps a key ingredient to the secret of this toastie company’s success was that we were in boarding school, and they sold these toasties after our regimented tea-time, when we didn’t have access to a kitchen or the possibility of making our own snacks.
Sure, we had sixteen-slice toasters and a seemingly unlimited supply of white bread and butter at our disposal in our recreation room, where we used to gather around TVs to watch the latest episode of Friends. But what this mini-company was offering were hot pockets of cheese-heavy comfort food. These treat-filled triangles were irresistible to us home-sick young girls, who were essentially a trapped customer base, starving for comfort food.
Twenty years on, when I take out my toastie machine from its hiding place on top of my kitchen cupboards, I still think of that mini-company and how delicious those toasties tasted to us. The standard ham and cheese fillings can get a little old, even when jazzed up with some onion or tomato, so the last time I took out my machine I thought I’d try something new.
One of my favourite food websites is Australian Gourmet Traveller (http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au), which is a bundle of recipes featured on the magazine of the same name. I found a recipe for a Parmigiana Melanzana Toastie and knew it was what I had been waiting for. It takes the classic partners of Parmesan, tomato sauce, aubergine and cheese, and puts it into a sandwich. The below recipe is adapted to suit my own love of speediness, though this toastie still takes a little longer than your average toasted sandwich. But, believe me, it’s totally worth it.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
For the tomato sauce
1 clove of garlic
50ml of good quality passata
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Handful of fresh basil leaves
For the aubergines
For the sambo
Knob of butter, softened
4 slices of soft white bread
100g of mozzarella
2 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan
1. Make the tomato sauce by heating a little olive oil in a small pan over a medium to high heat. Finely dice the garlic and then gently fry for two minutes in the hot pan, stirring constantly, until it starts to smell lovely but doesn’t burn. Pour in the passata, the balsamic vinegar and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and stir. Bring to a gentle simmer and heat through before taking off the heat and allowing to cool. Once cool, tear up a few fresh basil leaves, about 4 or 5 leaves, and add to the sauce. Transfer this sauce to a large mixing bowl.
2. Slice your aubergine into small cubes. Brush generously with olive oil. Heat another drop of olive oil in a larger frying pan and cook the aubergine cubes for about 15 minutes over a medium heat, until they are cooked through and nicely soft. You might need to add a bit of extra oil in the middle of the cooking process, if the aubergines look a little dry, even though they’ve just soaked up all available oil in the pan. Once they are cooked through, drain on kitchen paper towel before transferring them to the large mixing bowl with the tomato sauce, so that you can coat the aubergine with the sauce.
3. Next, heat up your toastie machine. Spread your butter on one side of all the bread slices. Assemble your sandwich by placing two butter-side down slices of bread on a tray or chopping board. Layer this with the aubergine and tomato, and then top with torn pieces of the mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Place the other two slices of bread on top of these sandwiches, and then carefully transfer them to the toastie machine. Cook as according to your machine’s instructions. Usually you know your toastie is ready when the light on the front of your machine turns green.
4. Serve this sandwich hot and immediately, with the cheese oozing out the sides, and some leftover tomato sauce on the side as a dipping sauce.
Storecupboard Essential: A Toastie Machine
Also known as pie irons, pudgy pie irons or jaffle irons, the sandwich toaster became popular in the US in 1960s and 70s, and spread worldwide thanks to brands like Breville An ICM survey in 2005 found that 45% of British adults own but don’t use sandwich toasters, and no doubt the figure is similar here in Ireland. You probably have a dusty toastie maker in your cupboard right now that’s waiting to be rediscovered.
This recipe first appeared in The Irish Independent on 1st September 2016