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I want summer to slow down and stay a while. I feel like July has just disappeared before my eyes, which might have to do with the fact that everyone I know is getting married this summer, and there are birthdays to celebrate, and a quick trip to Vegas (!) had to be taken. Somehow, in the midst of all this running around, I managed to sneak in my used-to-be-weekly visit to Berkeley Bowl. As I walked through the parking lot that afternoon, I thought to myself, “this is so nice”. At that moment I had to take a moment to appreciate that for the first time in weeks, I could spend the day doing whatever I wanted, at a leisurely pace, with no distractions, nowhere else to be, nothing. Sometimes, it’s the little things.
Speaking of little things… I found the most gorgeous baby graffiti eggplant while perusing the insane produce section at Berkeley Bowl. These little beauties literally stopped me in my tracks. I was immediately drawn to their pastel stripes and miniature stature; they looked like jewels. I had to have them. Because I felt that my little jewel eggplants were so special, I couldn’t just roast them. In my search for the perfect eggplant dish, I came across this eggplant tarte tatin. Sweet eggplant??!! I initially had my mind set on a savory dish, especially since I’m kind of, sort of trying to lay off the sweets at the moment. But I could not stop thinking about this recipe. So I caved.
Thank goodness for my non-existent willpower! This tarte tatin is seriously out of this world. It’s amazing that eggplant can make such a dramatic transformation when combined with a little butter and sugar. It has an incredibly deep, rich caramelized flavor. The combination of textures really is perfection – crispy, flaky puff pastry crust and sticky, gooey eggplant, which somehow manages to maintain some of that creamy eggplant quality, together are a match made. And the black pepper in the caramel gives it such a fun little kick at the end. I love the element of surprise of this recipe. I had so much fun making all of my tasters guess the mystery ingredient; my sister and Adrian both guessed figs, which would have been my guess, along with dates. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a recipe. But don’t take my word for it. Try it! You’ve gotta have faith. I promise this will not disappoint.
eggplant tarte tatin with black pepper caramel
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 14-oz package), thawed
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb (5- to 6-inch long) bambino (also called Baby Bell) eggplants (about 4), peeled, halved crosswise, and then quartered lengthwise
Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle.
Roll out pastry sheet into a 12-inch square on a floured work surface with a rolling pin. Brush off excess flour. Cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer pastry round to a baking sheet and chill.
Spread butter thickly on bottom and sides of a 12-inch heavy skillet. Sprinkle sugar, salt, and pepper evenly over bottom. Arrange as many pieces of eggplant as will fit vertically in skillet, packing them tightly in concentric circles.
Cook eggplant over medium heat, undisturbed, until sugar melts and caramel is deep golden, about 20 minutes (caramel may not color evenly).
Place skillet in oven and bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lay pastry round over eggplant inside skillet. Bake until pastry is browned and puffed, about 25 minutes. Transfer skillet to a rack and cool 5 to 10 minutes.
Invert a plate over skillet and invert tart onto plate. Replace any pieces of eggplant that stick to skillet and brush any excess caramel from skillet over eggplant.