This dish is one of my new go-to appetizers. So flavorful and tasty, and the best part is it was born out of leftovers and desperation for dinner idea one night! (I love when that happens.) I had some leftover roasted eggplant from the night before and always have jars of basic marinara sauce in the cupboard. Tired of pasta dishes and staring at a fresh ciabatta loaf, I decided to do a take on a favorite baked pasta dish and turn it into a dip instead. I cut the eggplant into small pieces and mixed it into some sauce. On top -- some grated fontina cheese topped with a mixture of garlic, fresh herbs, and panko bread crumbs. Baked in the oven until piping hot and crispy, I served it with some toasted bread to dip right in. It was delicious, light but filling, and as you can see from the pictures yourselves, simply gorgeous.
This is just perfect for a quick and easy appetizer or part of a lighter meal. You'll love this. And yes, you have to use panko bread crumbs -- nothing else will get that crispy texture that makes this dish so special!
Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Dip with Toasted Ciabatta about 1/2 cup cubed, roasted eggplant*
1 1/2 cup favorite marinara sauce
1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 tsp each: dried thyme, dried oregano
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, very finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic -- skin removed but kept whole
salt and freshly ground black pepper
ciabatta bread, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated fontina cheese (recommend: Fontal)
special equipment: ramekin with lid, or some other container; French onion soup croques are great
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the eggplant, marinara sauce, and fresh basil and transfer mixture into baking ramekin.
In a separate bowl, place the panko bread crumbs, dried thyme and oregano, and parsley. Take one of the garlic cloves (saving the other for the bread) and finely chop it, then add it to the panko mixture. Add a small pinch of salt and some pepper and then a small drizzle of olive oil -- just enough to moisten the crumbs so it's a little drier than wet sand consistency -- and mix all together to combine.
Add the fontina right on top of the eggplant marinara dip, then add the panko mixture right on top of the cheese. Cover with top and bake in oven about 25 minutes for flavors to meld and to get hot. Remove the lid and continue to cook about another 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and top is golden and crispy. Remove and let stand before serving.
To make the bread, take the sliced ciabatta and layer them out on one even layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle or brush one side with olive oil and season with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Bake in 400 degree oven (or broil, or can grill) until lightly golden. While still quite warm, take the other whole garlic clove and rub it onto the toasted side of the bread.
To serve, place sauce on plate and flank with bread slices. Serve hot.
*Roasted eggplant is wonderful not only on its own, but thrown into pasta dishes or even pureed into dips. To make, simply take a large, ripe and perfectly deep purple eggplant and cut off both ends. The skin can be a little tough, especially if you plan to use this pureed in a dip, so peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise (so you have two long halves) and then slice each half into thirds. Next, cut into cubes (or bite-sized pieces). Take a baking sheet and line it with paper towels. Place the eggplant pieces on one even layer and sprinkle some salt on top (no pepper) -- the salt will help draw out the immense moisture in the eggplant, so you won't have to use as much oil when cooking. This also helps retain more of an eggplant taste rather than a soggy, more oily taste. Cover the top with another layer of paper towels and let stand about 45 minutes. Remove and season with pepper and some olive oil then roast in the oven at 375 until tender and just beginning to caramelize, about 25 minutes. Remove and eggplant is ready to be eaten or used in a dish!