carpaccio veggie 88.
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I was looking forward to a taste of traditional Italian food when we dined recently at Il Fornaio in Manhattan Beach, California. After all, my husband and I "discovered" these attractive bakeries in Italy in the seventies. And the first Il Fornaio restaurants which opened in California in the early eighties served classic Italian fare.
Yet among the appetizers, a nonconventional dish enticed me the most. I chose eggplant carpaccio instead of opting for the old fashioned meat carpaccio.
Classic carpaccio is made of paper-thin slices of top quality beef drizzled with mustard sauce or extra virgin olive oil. My friend Suzanne Dunaway, author of Rome at Home, explained its origin: "Years ago in Venice there was a major art exhibit of Vittore Carpaccio's work and much discussion of his magnificent reds and yellows... The founder of Harry's Bar in Venice created his own work of art for a client, a contessa whose doctor insisted she eat raw meat," and he paired red beef with yellow mustard sauce to honor the painter. In her recipe Dunaway, an artist herself, instructs her readers to "Drip the mustard sauce over the carpaccio, creating a Jackson Pollock design." Carpaccio became a hit in Italy. Usually it's garnished with peppery arugula leaves, thin shavings of Parmesan and often capers.
Of course, traditional carpaccio is not kosher. But over the years chefs have created carpaccio spin-offs. Although celebrated Italian restauranteur Piero Selvaggio described his first taste of classic carpaccio as "magical," in his book, The Valentino Cookbook, he gives two fish carpaccio recipes instead. His salmon carpaccio is marinated with olive oil and orange and lemon juice and zest. His tuna carpaccio features a caper vinaigrette.
Indeed, fish carpaccio is popular among many fine Italian chefs. Evan Kleiman, author of Cucina Rustica, explains tuna's appeal: "The meaty flavor and texture of fresh tuna truly make it suitable for a dish that is usually made with beef." She marinates her tuna with mustard, olive oil and lemon juice, then tops it with a salad of thin-sliced radishes and cooked dried beans.
Jerusalem chef Eyal Shani of Ocean takes his sea-grouper carpaccio in a spicy direction, accenting the olive oil and lemon juice dressing with hot Japanese wasabi (the green "horseradish" that comes with sushi), this according to Sherry Ansky, author of The Food of Israel. Andrew Schloss and Ken Bookman, authors of Fifty Ways to Cook Most Everything, also like spicy fish carpaccio, adding garlic, ginger root and hot pepper flakes to the vinaigrette for their tuna.
Some make carpaccio from smoked instead of raw fish. Micol Negrin, author of The Italian Grill, admits that "Calling this dish a carpaccio is taking creative license... But the presentation is reminiscent of beef carpaccio, hence the name." Hers features thin smoked fish slices topped with arugula strips; diners add their own lemon juice and olive oil.
At a restaurant called Carpaccio (named for the painter) in Niagara Falls, NY, they make smoked salmon carpaccio served with onions, capers, artichokes and black olives. If you subtract the artichokes, it reminds me of lox platters that are served with bagels and cream cheese! Vegetable variations on carpaccio abound. In the carpaccio I enjoyed at Il Fornaio, the eggplant was sliced thin and grilled. What made it so enticing was the tasty topping capers, kalamata olives, diced goat cheese and roasted red and yellow pepper strips, and of course, extra virgin olive oil.
TV chef Tyler Florence, author of Eat This Book, makes a refreshing raw zucchini carpaccio. After the thin zucchini slices sit for 10 minutes with salt and olive oil, they get "melted and juicy." Florence tops them with thin slices of young leeks, chopped dill, chives, ricotta cheese and mint leaves.
Some chefs stretch the definition a bit too far for my taste, referring to sliced tomatoes with vinaigrette as "tomato carpaccio," or calling appetizers or desserts "peach carpaccio" simply because they contain peach slices. I like there to be more relation to the original.
You can serve this dish as a starter or as a light lunch or summertime supper. Grill the eggplant slices on a ridged stovetop grill, a broiler, or a barbecue. You can serve the eggplant as soon as it's cooked or marinate it in its dressing in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
1 medium eggplant (about 550 grams), unpeeled
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, broiled and peeled, or 2 roasted peppers from a jar, cut in strips
115 grams (4 ounces) creamy goat cheese, in small pieces
1/3 cup Kalamata or other fine-quality black olives
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1 to 2 tablespoons thin strips of basil leaves
fresh basil sprigs for garnish
Cut eggplant in very thin slices lengthwise and sprinkle them with salt. Let stand about 10 minutes while heating broiler or grill. Pat dry. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil and arrange in one layer on rack of preheated broiler or barbecue, about 2 inches from heat source, or on heated stovetop grill on medium-high heat. Broil or grill for 3 minutes per side, brushing lightly with oil after turning, or until eggplant is tender when pierced with a fork.
Transfer eggplant slices to a serving dish. Whisk 4 tablespoons olive oil with vinegar, salt and pepper and spoon over eggplant. Serve cool or at room temperature, topped with pepper strips, goat cheese pieces, olives, capers, and basil strips and sprigs.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.