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SoCal Style / Entertaining

On a Roll

September 14, 1997|Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese -- It Was Love at First Bite and MICHELLE HUNEVEN | Huneven is the author of "Round Rock," a novel published this summer by Knopf

Recently while agonizing over th menu for a big party (100 guests!), I dreamed about a large, furrowed field. The sight of it filled me with regret and frustration: It was too late in the season to plant anything. Surely this was the gardening cook's classic nightmare. But then I reached down into the barren soil and pulled out a miracle--countless large, deep purple orbs.

I woke up hungry for eggplants.

They do not grow underground, of course, but on small furry, sturdy bushes. Eggplants have always seemed somewhat miraculous--I've had them in my garden and am always amazed that such a skinny, modest plant can produce such flagrantly opulent, bosomy fruit. Greedy summer feeders, eggplants swell shamelessly with ample water and sun; later, sliced and in a pan, they'll drink up all the olive oil you give them.

Sometimes vague of color and form when cooked, eggplants tread the line between the sublime and the disgusting. Indeed, their slippery texture and their peppery and often acidic flavor repel most children. Nevertheless, the great serendipity of my dream was that those wonderful underground eggplants pulled from the furrows make the ideal party food: an hors d'oeuvre of grilled eggplant, wrapped around goat cheese and basil.

The first time I had anything like it was 10 years ago at Valentino, and those small bites, imbued with the perfume of basil and the earthiness of goat cheese, still sit in my memory as a form of perfection. I've been trying to re-create them ever since--with some success.

I made them the day before the big event, with friends who had gathered to help me cook. One person worked the grill while three of us rolled. Not all of the slices survived the grilling in one piece, and we happily devoured these unsightly samples. (Outdoor grilling adds a great smoky flavor, but it's not necessary; I've pan-grilled the eggplant slices and sauteed them in rather a lot of oil, and even broiled oil-brushed slices, all with good result.)

Easy to assemble, fragrant as a summer garden, as prettily composed as sushi and irresistible in flavor, these little roll-ups can be made all without your ever having to turn on the stove.


Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese Rolls

(makes about 40 rolls)

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

8 ounces goat cheese

1 (1-pound) eggplant, oblong rather than globular

1 large or 2 small bunches basil


Mix together 1 cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

Place goat cheese in small bowl and add 2 tablespoons oil-vinegar mixture or more to taste. Stir until creamy and set aside.

Slice eggplant into thin rounds, about 4 to 5 slices per inch. (Note: Slices should not be so thin that they fall apart on grill). Brush eggplant with oil-vinegar mixture.

Place eggplant on hot grill and cook until soft and pliable, 3 to 5 minutes, basting with oil-vinegar mixture and turning as necessary. Remove from grill and set aside.

Remove basil leaves from stems.

For each roll-up, place eggplant slice on plate or board. On bottom half of slice, put 2 basil leaves with tips pointing out the sides. Place 2 or more rounded teaspoons goat cheese on basil leaves and roll up eggplant slice. Points of basil leaves should be sticking out each end. Rolls should be 3/4- to 1-inch thick.

Chill 3 hours or overnight. Serve whole or slice rolls in half and serve upright, with flat sides down and peeled edge and leaf points facing upward.


Annie Glass plate from Barneys New York.

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