My roasted eggplant has a mind of its own. Some days, I pull it out of the oven and it's golden brown and pudding soft: It collapses under the weight of my hovering finger, before I even have a chance to prod. Other days, it's ornery—grey and dry, wrinkled and puckered. It's cooked (I guess?) but chewing on it is like gnawing on a sliver of car tire.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this inconsistency: the age of the eggplant; the amount of oil; the heat of the oven; the care taken to salt, rinse, and pat the slices dry (or not); and whether Mercury is in retrograde. But we went over all of the ins and outs of eggplant last summer. So this August I say, "Gimme that quick fix!"
Luckily, Yotam Ottolenghi, author, most recently, of NOPI and democratically-elected King O'Eggplants, has just the aubergine-roasting solution:
When roasting eggplants, I recommend placing a tray with water at the bottom of the oven to give out steam and prevent the eggplants from drying out.
Ottolenghi shares this tip in the headnote for the Eggplant with Crushed Chickpeas and Herbed Yogurt in Plenty More. For this recipe, large eggplants are cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices, then roasted at 475° F (!) for 40 minutes (!)—a very high temperature, a very long cook time.
Shop the Story
But, with the oven turned into a mini steam room, the eggplant is hydrated so that it softens and slackens (rather than dehydrates and seizes); the temperature is so high that the water will evaporate—protecting the eggplant for slumping to mush, and giving it an opportunity to brown—by the end of the cook time.
You can apply the technique to any instance of eggplant roasting. If you find, when your timer dings, that your eggplant is soft but not as brown as you'd like, remove the tray of water and turn up the heat, or run the eggplant under the broiler, for a few minutes.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.