Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Grilled Eggplant and Ratatouille with Sun-Dried Tomato and Elderflower Cashew Creme for Food 'N Flix June: "I Am Love"

Our Food 'N Flix pick for June (hosted by the amazing Evelyne of CulturEatz--see her announcement post here) is the 2009 Italian drama, I Am Love, starring the always fascinating to watch Tilda Swinton. I saw this movie when it hit Netflix, but I didn't remember that much about it. I did notice that I gave it a 3-star rating--which generally means I liked it, but didn't really like or love it. Still, it's always fun to re-watch a movie with food goggles on, so I put it back in my queue and finally got around to watching it last weekend. (Subtitles always mean scheduling time when I can fully pay attention--especially when on the lookout for food inspiration!

If you have not seen this movie, I am not going to go into a lot of plot detail--suffice it to say "wealthy textile manufacturing in Italy, Russian woman (Swinton) loses her identity and passion after many years of marriage and two grown children, and finds passion and love with a younger hot chef friend of her son, causing much upset." Wikipedia has a great and detailed summary here, but I recommend not reading the last 3 paragraphs before seeing the movie so as not to spoil the ending. It is a visually-stunning film about family, love, passion, pain and of-course food. It is not at a a feel-good movie, there are some truly sad moments--particularity near the end but, if you like a somewhat dark Italian film with beautiful scenery, unique food, and Tilda Swinton (she never fails to mesmerize me when she is on screen), you will likely find it absorbing.

It's not always easy to catch the food, or at least the details in the film. Some things I saw and wrote down: a cake, eggplant with elderflower, Leghorn cod, Russian salad (that seemed to be wrapped and a torch taken to it), small tarts of some sort, luncheon dishes of egg yolk, pea cream and zucchini flowers,  prawns with ratatouille and sweet and sour sauce (apparently orgasmic!), mixed fish with crunchy vegetables, Ukha--a Russian soup with a clear saffron broth (very integral to the story and mentioned a few times), a mention of 'Ligurian dishes,' raspberries, lots of fresh vegetables and fruit sitting around, a garden with what looked like berries/currents?, clover, and grapes--or at least grape leaves, coffee drinks and what looked like a box of macarons. There was probably much more that I didn't catch in there.

My inspiration actually is a mashup of several scenes and dishes--it is, I confess, a bit ADHD in nature and also a bit unwieldy to eat, but boy did it end up surprising and delighting me with the taste! So, inspirations--the eggplant and elderflower for sure, the leghorn-style cod--mainly its pinkish-red cloud of mousse-like foam that I decided must have tomato in it since research showed tomatoes to be a key ingredient in the dish, named for Livorno--Leghorn in English, a port city on the Ligurian sea on the Western coast of Tuscany. There was the ratatouille that was served with the shrimp and sweet and sour sauce, but appeared to be not quite as stewed as a typical ratatouille (see center photo of collage), and the over-arching theme of Ligurian dishes which seem to be all about fresh and local produce. Whew, right?!

So, have... Grilled Eggplant and Ratatouille with Sun-Dried Tomato & Elderflower Cashew Creme 

Since I don't have access to readily available elderflower, and I have a large bottle of the
liqueur that I am working through, I decided to put it into a sun-dried tomato cashew creme sauce (a vegan nod to the mousse/foam with the cod), brightened with lemon juice and layer it with stacks of eggplant slices. Since it's summer and grilling in on the mind, I decided to grill the eggplant slices and ratatouille vegetables (mostly locally-grown) in garlic-infused oil and place it all on a bed of greens--in this case I came across some locally-grown sorrel that I don't come across often and have not used much and I thought its lemony tang would be nice. I was going to add fresh basil but forgot to get some, so I just used thinly-sliced sorrel leaves for a garnish. 

Grilled Eggplant and Ratatouille
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2)

1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 small sweet onion
1 red bell pepper
2 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup garlic-infused oil (I used garlic macadamia nut oil) + more as needed
sea salt and black pepper to taste

For Plating:
1 small bunch baby arugula, lettuce, or other micro green, and/or sorrel or basil leaves (I used sorrel) + additional sorrel or basil, cut into long thin strips (chiffonade) for garnish.
Sun-Dried Tomato & Elderflower Cashew Creme (recipe below)
Make Ahead Prep: Slice eggplant into 3/4-inch slices--you should hopefully get about 8 total. Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt and place in a colander over a plate or bowl and let sit for at least 30 minutes while you grill the other veggies. Discard any liquid, lightly rinse slices and pat dry--gently pressing any excess water out. Brush both slides of slices generously with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Set aside until ready to grill. 

Grilling Ratatouille Vegetables: Slice zucchini vertically into 1/2-3/4-inch planks, peel and slice thickly slice onion, stem, seed and slice bell pepper into thick strips (as flat as you can get), and slice Roma tomatoes in half. 

Place a large grill pan over medium-high heat and allow to get hot. Place cut veggies on a plate or shallow bowl and drizzle remaining garlic-infused oil over them, gently tossing to coat and seasoning with sea salt.  

Place the vegetables in a single layer on the hot grill pan (you may have to do this in batches and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, turning over once midway through cooking time. (Note; Vegetables should be almost cooked through, with grill/char marks but not burned, so keep an eye on them. I find it easiest to do the same veggies together. Tomatoes will likely be done the fastest at about 4 minutes but use your judgment.) Place grilled veggies on a plate, lined with a paper towel and allow to cool slightly.

On a cutting board, coarsely chop veggies into small bite-sized pieces and place into a bowl. When chopping tomatoes, lightly squeeze them over the bowl to capture any juices. Lightly toss, taste for seasoning, adding more salt and a sprinkle of pepper if desired, and set aside. You can add a drizzle of extra garlic-infused oil or chopped herbs if desired or if not using the cashew creme sauce. 

Wipe out grill pan if needed and reheat over medium-high.  

Grilling Eggplant: Once pan is re-heated and hot, add prepared eggplant slices in a single layer (cook in batches if needed). Cook until lightly-browned with grill marks (you can turn the slices slightly mid way through each side to get a cross-hatch pattern of grill marks), about 4 minutes per side. Eggplant should be lightly-browned cooked through-- tender but not mushy. Sprinkle slices with additional salt and a bit of pepper if desired. Place on a covered plate to serve warm.

To Plate: Place a thin layer of greens on two plates. Divide the grilled ratatouille on top of the greens and level out to as flat a surface as possible. Center an eggplant slice on each plate and top (you can pipe with a pastry bag or use a spoon) with a thin layer of the Sun-Dried Tomato & Elderflower Cashew Creme. Repeat, dividing the slices between the two plates, making a stack of 3 to 4 slices per plate. After the final slice, top with a dollop of the cashew creme and sprinkle with fresh basil or sorrel. Serve immediately with a knife and fork.

Sun-Dried Tomato & Elderflower Cashew Creme
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

1 heaping cup raw cashews, whole or pieces
1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil), re-hydrated, water reserved
1 oz elderflower liqueur (I used St. Germain)
juice of one lemon (about 3 Tbsp), or to taste
sea salt and white pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp sea salt & 1/4 tsp white pepper)

Plan Ahead Prep: Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or overnight. Place sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and pour 1/2 cup boiling water over them. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes--drain and reserve tomato water.

To make sauce: Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Put them in a (preferably high-speed) blender with the re-hydrated tomatoes, elderflower, lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the reserved tomato water to start. Blend on high for a minute or two, until smooth--adding extra tomato water (or plain water) as needed until mixture blends easily but is still thick and creamy. Add about 1/2 tsp sea salt and 1/4 tsp white pepper and blend for another 30 seconds. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice as desired. If you don't have a high-speed blender and mixture is not smooth, you can strain it to remove any remaining bits of cashew.

Store refrigerated creme for 2-3 days, tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Notes/Results: OK, the stack has a slight lean and is not the easiest thing to eat neatly (maybe I'd try just three slices next time!) but the flavors here are spot-on and it makes a vegan dish that is unique and delicious enough that I doubt any meat and cream would be missed! After some simple prep (mainly soaking the cashews and sun-dried tomatoes and chopping veggies) it actually goes together pretty quickly so don't be afraid of the ultra-long recipe. It literally took me three times as long to type up the recipes than it did to make them! You could also just grill the eggplant slices along with the other veggies, chop and add them to the ratatouille, and then drizzle the cashew creme on top for a faster and easier-to-eat presentation. The eggplant slices pretty easily when you cut it--it's just a tad messy with the layers and creme. I was really happy with the Sun-Dried Tomato & Elderflower Cashew Creme as I was worried about the elderflower liqueur either being hidden or overwhelming the sauce, but it actually was present with a slightly floral sweetness, while the lemon and sun-dried tomatoes balanced it out nicely. All in all, a delicious dish that I will definitely make again--especially the grilled ratatouille and the cashew creme--even if I don't want to bother with an eggplant tower. ;-)

Because procrastination is my middle name, today is the deadline for I Am Love and Evelyne will be rounding up the posts on her blog shortly. If you missed this round and love food, moivies, and food in movies, join us for the July film, Popeye, hosted by Elizabeth at The Lawyer’s Cookbook

Happy viewing, cooking, and eating!


  1. What a fantastic dish and plating Deb, I just love it! And glad you enjoyed seeing the movie, again! it is an intense film, so is the amazing Tilda Swinton. Thanks for participating.

    1. Thanks Evelyne--I definitely enjoyed watching it for the gorgeous food and scenery. What a great and very deliciously-inspiring pick! ;-)

  2. This sounds delicious Deb, I can totally see the inspiration pulled in from the parts of the film. Plus, it's very appetizing to look at, love the height and the colors.

  3. I LOVE it! I was inspired by the eggplant and elderflower, but went a different direction. However, I DO have access to fresh elderflowers and it is the season. Okay, you've convinced me...

    1. Thanks Camilla! Lucky you on the fresh elderflowers--I think they would be fun to play with. ;-)

  4. Oh my gosh Deb. I love this!!! I am posting to FFF facebook page and pinning to our board. Great recipe!


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