Eggplant and I don’t have an easy relationship. I think I’ve previously mentioned this before, but I’m going to tell this story again. I had an unfortunate baba ganoush experience. And it has stayed with me and cast the eggplant in an unfavorable light. I am slowly but surely working to improve my opinion of eggplant, but I will admit it’s touch and go from time to time. My love for eggplant is very context-dependent. Sometimes I have an eggplant dish that doesn’t work for me for whatever reason and that severely sets back my progress. But I’m happy to say that more often than not a quality eggplant dish furthers my cause. This Roasted Eggplant with Nduja Lentils and Whipped Ricotta is one such dish.
The year was 2008. I was subsisting on prepackaged food from the grocery store down the street from my first-ever apartment. I purchased a tub of baba ganoush from my local and proceeded to tear into it with some pita. This was a brand I had purchased with no ill effects before, so nothing could’ve prepared me for what was in my immediate future. Vomiting. A good 24 hours of vomiting to be exact. You know, popular opinion tells you not to write about puke on a food blog, but we’re all about innovating here at Rhubarb and Cod.
Anyway, I was desperately ill for a couple of days after eating that baba ganoush. Now, I realize the dip may have not been at fault. But a negative connection was established. And baba ganoush was no longer my friend. I didn’t realize until I had ordered eggplant parmesan at a restaurant roughly two weeks later, that the negative association had extended to eggplant in general. That was an awkward dining experience.
So here I am, more years later than I’d care to admit, still trying to make my peace with the eggplant. Now, you might be wondering, justifiably so, why I’m trying so hard to like eggplant. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m just like this with pretty much everything edible. I even forced myself to like black olives in the 10th grade. I guess I figure that if somebody likes it, the food has merit and it only needs to be understood. It’s helpful to not think of foods as a dislike or a like, they are experiences.
There are some experiences that are easy to like, like shopping in Paris. That’s basically the equivalent of eating a cake doughnut. Who hates cake doughnuts? And then there are some experiences that are more challenging but help you grow as a person, like going on a job interview. This is kind of like developing an appreciation for single malt scotch. And finally, there are some experiences with no redeeming qualities, like waiting in line at the DMV. These are the foods you truly hate. I have very few of these foods and I know eggplant isn’t one of them.
So, basically, eggplant deserves a fair shake. And I have learned from past recipes, the best way to get me to like eggplant is to pair it with something umami-heavy and something creamy. And in this particular Roasted Eggplant dish, those two roles are fulfilled by nduja lentils and whipped ricotta. Let’s tackle the lentils first.
Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with nduja, allow me to introduce you to your new favorite spreadable sausage. Yes, I did write “spreadable sausage”. And no, I’m not trying to be cute. This is not a euphemism. Nduja is honestly a cured pork product packed into a casing that can be spread on toast essentially like cookie butter. Basically, it’s the meat equivalent of cookie butter. No, never mind this analogy – it’s deeply discussing. Its buttery texture is due to its high-fat percentage. This is why nduja is spread-able, and it’s also why it melts readily in a hot pan.
Nduja gets its fiery color and flavor from Calabrian chilies. This sausage packs such a spicy and umami-heavy note that it permeates through everything it touches. Especially when it comes into contact with natural flavor sponges, like lentils. I used red lentils in this recipe because they themselves disintegrate into a velvety sauce, perfect for draping over rice, pasta, or, well, roasted eggplant.
Now, for the whipped ricotta. I love whipped ricotta. It’s definitely more of a textural experience than a flavor-heavy one but that’s kind of why I like it so much. The ricotta kind of acts a palette-cleanser, albeit a wondrously creamy one. In between bites of lemony eggplant, and spicy lentils, you get a dose of mellow richness, that only a fresh cheese lightly salted and whipped with olive oil can provide. The ricotta is also what makes bread the only reasonable eating utensil for this dish. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I will take any excuse to eat more bread.
So that’s pretty much all you need to know about this Roasted Eggplant with Nduja Lentils and a story you definitely did not need to know. I promise, if you come back, I will not discuss GI distress again. I hope you enjoy this dish, it’s a total keeper in this house.
Roasted Eggplant with Nduja Lentils and Whipped Ricotta
- Large baking sheet
- Large skillet
- 2 smallish globe eggplants
- 475g (16oz) full-fat ricotta
- 1 tsp kosher salt divided
- ¼ cup + 1 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 yellow onion cut into half-moons
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp nduja heaping
- ½ cup red lentils
- 1½ cups water
- 1 lemon juiced
- fresh basil leaves for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and prick the eggplants all over with a fork. Place the sheet in the oven and roast the eggplants until the skin wrinkles and they start to sink in on themselves. About 1 hour.2 smallish globe eggplants
- While the eggplant is roasting, make the lentils and the whipped ricotta. Place the ricotta in a large food processor and add 1/2 a teaspoon of the salt. Turn the food processor on and stream in a 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Blitz until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl and chill until ready to serve.475g (16oz) full-fat ricotta, 1 tsp kosher salt, ¼ cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pour the remaining olive oil in a large skillet and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering add the onion and another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Saute until softened. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.1 tsp kosher salt, ¼ cup + 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 yellow onion, 4 cloves garlic
- Add the nduja to the pan and wait for it to melt into the onions before adding the lentils and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until the lentils are soft.1 tbsp nduja, ½ cup red lentils, 1½ cups water
- By now the eggplant should be done. Take the eggplants out of the oven and split them using a knife. Sprinkle the interior with a little salt and finish with a splash of lemon juice.1 lemon
- Divide the ricotta between two platters and place the eggplants on top of each. ** Spoon the lentils on top of the eggplants and finish with fresh basil leaves and drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serve immediately with crusty bread and wine.fresh basil leaves