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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eggplant and Tri-Color Goat Cheese Napoleons on Couscous with Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Eggplant and Tri-Color Goat Cheese Napoleons on Couscous with Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Eggplant and Tri-Color Goat Cheese Napoleons on Couscous with Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette
by Victoria Challancin

When I first saw this recipe on Manus' Menu, a truly wonderful food blog by a young Italian woman who now lives in Australia, I was dazzled by her photos of this dish.  As I investigated the recipe further, I found that it was made with ingredients that I so love--eggplant, goat cheese, basil, couscous, sun-dried tomatoes, and a killer vinaigrette.  It immediately went to the top of my "to-make" list.

After tinkering with the recipe a wee bit, I jotted down my changes and noted with curiosity that I had called it "Eggplant Napoleons,"  while the original recipe called it "mille feuille."  Curious indeed.  I realized that to me, mille feuille tended to designate layered desserts, including the one which is actually called a "napoleon," whereas the term "napoleon" just meant something made in a layered stack, sweet or savory.  Clearly, an investigation was required.

When referring to a pastry, mille feuille, which means "thousand leaves"in France, designates a multi-layered pastry filled with patisserie cream.  In the world of the British Commonwealth, it would be called a "vanilla or cream slice"  (my Ozzie friends may correct me here, but from my experience they do make all sorts of really delicious "slices").  In Canada though, it is still called by the French term.  In Italy, where this particular dessert is thought to have originated, it is called mille foglie, also meaning a thousand leaves.  Ditto for the milhojas of Spain.  In parts of Africa, again with a British touch, it is called a "custard slice," unless in the former French colonies, where of course mille feuille reigns supreme.

In modern culinary lingo, mille feuille and napoleons can refer to either a savory or a sweet dish.  The Zucchini Slice that my Australian friend Jan makes is one such example that comes to mind of a delicious custard made with thin zucchini slices.  Of course, the possibilities are limitless for either type of dish.  We all remember the culinary craze so popular for a while with certain chefs, of often cumbersome architectural towers, precariously piled on the plate, that defied the diner to even approach--luckily that particular trend seems to have waned.

Why the reference to Napoleon?  For a very long time, it was purported that the mille feuille French pastry, made of layers of puff pastry and patisserie cream drizzled with chocolate, was Napoleon Bonapart's favorite dessert.  However, food historians tell us that there is no evidence of a connection. In its dessert form, the napoleon is probably a descendant or variation on a Middle Eastern phyllo dessert (such as baklava), known to both Middle Eastern and Greek cooks who probably introduced it to Italy via Sicily.  Others say that returning crusaders were responsible for its introduction to Europe. But because phyllo-type pastries are so ancient, it makes sense that their arrival to Europe pre-dates the dessert's popularity there in the 19th century.  Probably, the word "napoleon" is a corruption of the word "Napolitain," which refers to a pastry made in the tradition of the bakers of Naples, Italy.  

Whether a thousand leaves or three, a stack of veggies or whipped cream, Arab or Italian, French or Greek--napoleons are here to stay.  And so are mille feuille.

Cook's Notes:   I played with the amounts of ingredients in this recipe, as I often do.  While I am quite certain that the recipe is perfect the way it is written by its creator, Manu, I made a few adjustments according to my own taste.  I used 2 smallish eggplants instead of the original 4 slices called for in the original recipe so that I would have several napoleons instead of just one large one;  I used more than triple the amount of goat cheese; I substituted honey for maple syrup; and I added a bit more balsamic vinegar and garlic than the original recipe used.  Somehow I neglected in my original copying of the recipe to add basil to the vinaigrette (which is why my couscous isn't green).  Be sure to add the basil, though, as it will just add more depth of flavor.  I also made a bit more of the dipping oil with garlic as I had more pieces of eggplant.  I would probably add more basil to the green cheese portion next time to have a deeper green color (remember that I used extra goat cheese hence had a paler green hue), but other than that this recipe is just fantastic as is.  Actually, no changes are necessary.

Recipe:  Eggplant and Tri-Color Goat Cheese Napoleons on Couscous with Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette
(Adapted slightly from a recipe on Manu's Menu blog)

For the eggplant:
2 smallish eggplants, cut into 1/4-inch slices (note that it helps to have the slices similar in size)
2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more to spray/brush)
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 pinch kosher salt

For the tri-color goat cheese:
340g natural goat cheese, divided in 3 parts
8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
15 basil leaves (or ore)

For the couscous and honey balsamic vinaigrette:
80g (2/8 oz) couscous, cooked per package directions and cooled
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 large basil leaves

Garnish:  extra sun-dried tomato pieces and whole basil leaves as needed

Put the eggplant slices in salty water and leave for 30 minutes.  Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

Heat an oiled griddle pan until very hot.  Either spray or brush eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil.  Cook them on the griddle for a couple of minutes per side, or until clearly marked and cooked through.  Leave them, without moving around, so that they have grill marks.  Cook in batches, if necessary.  Set aside.

In the meantime, put the clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and salt in a bowl and set aside to allow the flavors to blend.  (This is to brush on the eggplant slices). 

Prepare the couscous following the package instructions and set aside.

Divide the goat cheese into 3 equal parts.  Place one portion in a small bowl and soften by mixing it with a fork.  Put 1/3 in a food processor with the sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of the oil from the tomatoes.  Blend until combined.  Set aside.  Put the remaining 1/3 in a clean food processor with the basil leaves and blend until combined.  Set aside.

Prepare the vinaigrette:  Put the honey, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a blender.  Add the basil leaves.  Process until smooth.  Dress the couscous with the vinaigrette, saving a bit to drizzle over the finished dish.

Divide the couscous between individual plates or on a platter.    Brush the eggplant slices lightly with the garlic oil and start building the napoleons.  Place once slice of eggplant on top of the couscous, spread with half of the white goat cheese, cover with another oil-brushed eggplant slice, spread with red goat cheese , and repeat with the green goat cheese.  Top with a final piece of eggplant.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices and cheese mixtures.

Garnish with a bit of sun-dried tomato and a basil leaf or two.

Drizzle the final dish with some more vinaigrette and serve at room temperature.

Parting Shot:  

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Ben said...

Great combination of flavors!

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

Gorgeous! I like mozzarella in this combination too. PS I have a tree just like that in my garden :)

Hotly Spiced said...

This looks lovely Victoria and so very good for you and tasty too. I love the lilac daisies in the background too! xx

Eha said...

Since I seem to be the first Aussie on the scene today - yes, we 'plainly spoken ones' in Oz do appreciate our vanilla slices :) ! I think this must be one of the most appetizing stack-type dishes I have ever seen. It helps if you love eggplant the way I do. Have just put in my market order for tomorrow and two are coming! Guess what??? Shall copy! Like your tricolour effect: so easy and, as Sally said, one can experiment with favourite cheeses. Thanks!!!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I always love visiting your blog...not only for the wonderful recipes but for all the interesting history that you provide about food and cooking.

Nancy said...

Hi Victoria,

I remember seeing this recipe on Manu's blog too. It has been on my list to try. You are so tempting me with your gorgeous photos.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Isn't Manu great? I adore her and her blog :) And have you read Lostpastremembered too? Deana has great historical food posts that you might be interested in :)

Lynne Daley said...

This looks great, Victoria. My husband adores eggplant and I know he would love your recipe! Great styling and composition as well.

Susan said...

Gorgeous summer fare, Victoria. Eggplant is a favorite seasonal veggie for me (although I am the only one in household who will eat it). Couscous is an excellent idea!

a. maren said...

such a cool history! i love it. i've never heard of a cream slice, i think where i'm from these pastries are so hard to find no one even knows what to call them :) but i've never loved the ones i've had, something about the cream making the pastry soggy...maybe i've just never had a good one. BUT this eggplant version looks fantastic! a beautiful vegetarian recipe, i can't wait to try it.

Nazneen | Coffee and Crumpets said...

These look great! I love eggplant but sadly, no one else in my house does. I rarely get to make eggplants.


Minnie@thelady8home said...

what a savoury post!! I love eggplant. I loved reading the post.... said...

What a delish looking dish. I am on my way to visit her blog.