This is a sort of composite dish which together makes a whole meal. Originally I made the fish and the aubergines as separate recipes, but the complement each other so well that I’ve married them permanently.
The za’atar is a heady middle-eastern mix of thyme, oregano and marjoram. It adds a sort of earthy allure to the aubergines.
Recipe for sea bass on a bean bed with exotic za’atar aubergines
• small pot (140g/5 oz) fresh green pesto
• 50g butter
• 1 banana shallot
• 3 cloves garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
• 1 x 400g tin of haricot beans
• 200g/7 oz sea bass fillets – two fillets
• ⅓ cup dry vermouth
• 1 round aubergine – about 350g
• ⅔ cup yoghurt – more pouring than very thick
• Urfa pepper, or ordinary pepper
• any ‘woody’ herbs you happen to have…. bay, thyme, rosemary, myrtle
• 2 tsps za’atar
1. Take the butter out of the fridge if that’s where you keep it.
2. Cut the aubergine into thinnish slices (couple of cm/½”), salt them lightly, put in a colander and weight down (cover with a plate and then put a couple of tins on top). Leave for about half an hour.
3. Line a roasting tray with foil and oil it generously (this makes washing up easier later).
4. Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
5. Dry the aubergine slices with kitchen paper (don’t rinse or you will reintroduce all the water you have been striving to get out). Put them down on the oiliest bits of the foil. Drizzle more olive oil over them.
6. Add the woody herbs. Don’t be tempted to add salt (you’ve already done that), but a few grinds of black pepper, or some urfa pepper flakes if you have them is a good idea.
7. Put the aubergine in the oven for fifteen minutes. Take them out, turn, drizzle a bit more olive oil if you think that’s necessary. Return to the oven for another fifteen minutes. The aubergine should be turning golden as in the photo – if it still looks pale and insipid return to the oven for another five minutes or so until it looks as it should.
8. Take out of the oven and sprinkle with the za’atar. Cover with the foil that you’ve used to line the roasting tin, and keep warm.
9. Meanwhile, make the yoghurt sauce by simply crushing the two garlic cloves with a teaspoon of salt, and mixing it into the yoghurt.
10. Peel and chop the shallot. Crush the garlic clove with another tsp of salt.
11. Mix a couple of tablespoons of the pesto in with the butter – it should still hold its shape.
12. Pat the skin of the fish dry. Season both sides of the fish. Fry the fish in olive oil – get it quite hot, and fry skin side first. Turn, and gently remove the skin. Set aside, keeping it warm.
13. Add the onion to the pan you’ve just used and fry gently – when it’s not far off translucent add the garlic.
14. Drain and rinse the beans. Add to the onion and garlic. Add the rest of the pesto. Stir.
15. Serve by dividing the bean mixture between two plates and placing one fillet on each, and a knob of the pesto-butter on that.
16. Put the aubergines and the yoghurt-garlic sauce on the table for everyone to help themselves.