This grilled eggplant sandwich recipe with goats cheese, ‘nduja and sweet red capsicum is my take on legendary Australian chef Christine Manfield’s iconic eggplant sandwich with goats cheese, pesto and red capsicum. In this version, we swap out Northern Italian basil pesto for Southern Italy’s ‘nduja, the spicy spreadable sausage paste from Calabria.
We recently got hold of some of Calabria’s fiery pork sausage paste here in Cambodia and thought that as good an excuse as any to tell you all about ’nduja and start a series on our best ’nduja recipes. We’ve also been planning a recipe series on retro-classic Australian dishes by Australia’s best chefs that we think are long overdue for a comeback.
This grilled eggplant sandwich recipe with goats cheese, ‘nduja and sweet red capsicum, which is my take on legendary Australian chef Christine Manfield’s iconic eggplant sandwich with goats cheese, pesto and red capsicum launches both series. As we publish new recipes, we’ll add links to each post in the series.
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Eggplant Sandwich Recipe with Goats Cheese, Nduja and Sweet Red Capsicum
As young foodies living in the inner-city suburb of Potts Point in the 1990s we regularly ate at Sydney’s best restaurants of the time – Tetsuya Wakuda’s Tetsuya, David Thompson’s Darley Street Thai, Peter Doyle’s Cicada, Stefano Manfredi’s Restaurant Manfredi and Bel Mondo, Neil Perry’s Rockpool, and Christine Manfield’s Paramount and Paragon restaurants.
Christine’s now-legendary eggplant sandwich with goats cheese, basil pesto and red capsicum was always on the menu at Paramount and Paragon, and we loved it so much that for many years the dish was my go-to starter for the dinner parties that we’d often have in Sydney and, after we moved to the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi and then Dubai.
If you’re not familiar with Christine’s food or Australian cuisine, we highly recommend getting hold of one of Christine Manfield’s many fabulous cookbooks and guides. These are just a handful of our favourites: Paramount Cooking (2000), Christine Manfield’s Desserts (2004), Spice: Recipes to Delight the Senses (2007), Fire: A World of Flavour (2009), Tasting India (2011), and A Personal Guide To India And Bhutan (2015).
There must be several different recipes floating around for Christine Manfield’s eggplant sandwich recipe with goats cheese, basil pesto and red capsicum, as the recipe that I have in my Paprika recipe manager app has deep-fried eggplant, a balsamic vinaigrette and is topped with thinly sliced rocket. The eggplant sandwich that I made for many years always had grilled eggplant, an olive oil and basil pesto dressing, and was topped with deep-fried basil leaves.
Christine’s eggplant sandwich dish always went down a treat just the way it was, however, as I’ve been developing some recipes for Calabria’s spicy spreadable pork sausage paste, I had some leftover home-roasted red capsicum that I needed to use up, and we had some lovely locally grown eggplants in the fridge, I thought I’d give this combination a try and it was absolutely delicious.
Both the capsicum and the eggplant slices are smoky from the open fire and the BBQ grill that they are cooked on and they’re a perfect match with the spicy ‘nduja that also has a slight smokiness to it. Goats cheese is a perfect match with the nduja and the basil worked well with the spicy sausage, although rocket would have too.
Tips to Making this Eggplant Sandwich Recipe
Just a few tips for this eggplant sandwich recipe with goats cheese, ‘nduja and sweet red capsicum. With any dishes requiring eggplant slices, people often question whether you need to draw moisture out of the eggplant to reduce the bitterness. In this case it’s not really bitterness that we’re removing from the eggplants, it’s excess moisture.
Removing that moisture allows you to get a quicker sear on the flesh and helps you get a smoky flavour from the eggplants. Using a griddle pan to grill the eggplant slices not only gives you attractive griddle marks, but also allows the smoke from the grill to circulate. We use a silicon pastry brush to coat the eggplant with olive oil first. Although a fibre pastry brush would also work for this eggplant sandwich recipe.
Some people question why it’s necessary to remove the skin of the capsicum. Peppers can develop a slight bitterness when the skins are left on when grilled. We also want silky, smoky capsicum for this dish, so skins are off.
If you’ve always had problems removing the skins from capsicums, the secret is to blacken the skins over a flame – we do it on our gas stovetop – then quickly place them in a plastic bag to ‘sweat’ the skins loose from the capsicums. If you’re worried about damaging your burner top, these aluminium burner covers or ‘bibs’ are perfect for this.
The secret to getting the skins off is to take a paper towel, hold the stem of the capsicum, and brush the skin off with the towel, while still holding the capsicum inside the bag. It’s a painstaking job, but it’s faster and less messy than doing it on a cutting board with a knife.
As we do a fair bit of baking and make filled pastas, we have a selection of cookie cutter rings which are perfect for cutting rounds of capsicum for the dish. We simply find the best match for the diameter of the eggplant rounds and use various rings to match the different sized eggplant slices.
Grilled Eggplant Sandwich Recipe with Goats Cheese, Nduja and Sweet Red Capsicum
- 2 red capsicums
- 2 medium-sized long eggplants
- 1 log of fresh goat's cheese
- 3 tbsp 'nduja softened
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small handful of Italian basil
- Roast the capsicums over a direct flame until the skins blacken all over, around 5-8 minutes. Place the capsicums in a plastic bag and seal. This will help 'sweat' the skins of the capsicums loose. After 10 minutes, remove the skins by rubbing the skins with paper towels until all the blackened skin is gone. remove the stems with a sharp knife and open the capsicums up. Remove the seeds and any white flesh.
- Now you can make rounds of the capsicum using dough cookie cutting rings that are – roughly – the same diameter as your eggplant slices in the next step.
- Slice the eggplants into 2 cm thick slices. Place the slices on an oven tray and sprinkle them with freshly ground sea salt. After 15 minutes pat the slices dry, turn them over and repeat the process again. Dry the slices and proceed with the next step.
- Brush the tops of each of the eggplant slices with olive oil and flip the pieces over onto a hot griddle pan with kitchen tongs. Cook on this side until you have good griddle marks on the eggplant slices. When you're ready to flip these over, brush the tops with a little olive oil. Place on a baking tray lined with kitchen wipes.
- Place the largest rounds of eggplant onto a serving plate. Spoon over a thin layer of 'nduja (particularly if the 'nduja is very hot).
- Slice 1 cm wide rounds of the goat's cheese and place one on top of the 'nduja on each eggplant layer. Place a round of the capsicum on top of this.
- Place the next largest rounds of eggplant on top of the previous layer and repeat the process.
- On the top layer, dab a little more of the 'nduja and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with a little olive oil mixed with 'nduja and serve.
Please do let us know if you make our grilled eggplant sandwich recipe in the comments below or on social media, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.