Appetizing taste of Paris

Entertaining: An eggplant-cheese spread delights guests.

August 15, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Asked to name my favorite city in which to dine, I'd choose Paris without a moment's hesitation. For more than three decades, I've traveled to France's capital for study, work or leisure. My culinary love affair with the city began in the '60s, when I was a student at the Sorbonne and daily depleted my allowance of francs on desserts from patisseries or lunches in small bistros.

Over the years, I've arranged many an epicurean tour of Paris for my cooking students and also have returned for extended stays with my spouse, a professor of French, who loves to spend his sabbaticals in the city on the Seine.

You can imagine my delight, when a new cookbook, "Parisian Home Cooking" (William Morrow, 1999), arrived in the mail several weeks ago. Written by Michael Roberts, a Los Angeles chef and consultant, it contains recipes and tips from cooks and food merchants in Paris. Filled with black and white photographs of markets and the men and women who work in them, the book reminded me of the many times I've shopped in the city's "marches" myself.

Eggplant and Goat Cheese Caviar

Makes 32 croutons

EGGPLANT CAVIAR:

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/3 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chopped fresh savory or thyme

1/4 cup goat cheese, softened

salt, freshly ground black pepper

CROUTONS:

32 (3/8 -inch-thick bread slices, cut from baguette about 2 1/3 to 3 inches in diameter)

olive oil

2/3 cup diced tomatoes (1 to 3 plum tomatoes, seeds and membranes removed)

savory or thyme sprigs for garnish, optional

To prepare Eggplant Caviar, pierce several holes in eggplant with fork or tip of knife and place eggplant in baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees on center rack until eggplant is completely shriveled and soft to the touch, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Slit one side of eggplant lengthwise and let stand 5 minutes. Cut eggplant in half, scoop flesh into mixing bowl and discard skin. Mash eggplant with fork and set aside.

Heat olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook shallots and garlic, without letting them color, until soft, about 1 minute. Add to eggplant. Add chopped savory and goat cheese and mix well to distribute cheese evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours. (Eggplant mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated until needed.)

To prepare Croutons, brush bread slices with olive oil on both sides and arrange on large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees on center rack, turning once, until slices are light golden brown and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool. (Croutons can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep at cool room temperature.)

To serve, spread each crouton generously with eggplant mixture. (Reserve any extra for another use.) Garnish each crouton with diced tomatoes and a savory sprig.

-- Adapted from "Parisian Home Cooking" by Michael Roberts, (William Morrow, 1999)

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