To get the most out of this lovely dish, you need to use purple-skinned Japa-
nese eggplants. If you can find them, the variety called Orient Express is just
terrific—mild, tender, and not at all bitter—despite its politically incorrect
name. These eggplants have a beautiful even shape, fewer seeds than other
varieties, and a sweet, creamy texture. But you can use any fresh Japanese egg-plants. Look for those that are taut, smooth-skinned, and shining, without any blemishes. As they age, the eggplants start to soften and turn brown in spots.
At Franny’s, we have the luxury of being able to roast eggplant in our wood-
burning oven, but a home oven cranked up high works great. The finish of
mild ricotta salata pulls all the bright, spicy flavors together.
8 Japanese eggplants (about 1¼ pounds), ends trimmed
2¼ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
Juice of 2 lemons
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup mint leaves, torn in half
A 1½-ounce chunk of ricotta salata for shaving
Slice each eggplant in half and score the flesh, making sure not to cut through the skin. Sprinkle the cut side of each half with ⅛ teaspoon salt. Place the egg-plant in a colander set over a plate and let stand for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Pat the eggplant halves dry and toss them with 4½ tablespoons of the olive oil. Arrange flesh side up on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast until golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat, then add the pine nuts to the dry skillet.
Toast, tossing or stirring them, until they are golden brown in spots and smell rich and nutty, about 2 minutes. Pour the nuts onto a plate to cool.
Toss the cooled eggplant with 2½ tablespoons olive oil, the chili flakes, half
the lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Divide among four serving plates.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, remaining lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Whisk in the mint and pine nuts.
Using a vegetable peeler, shave 3 slices of ricotta salata over each serving.
Spoon the dressing over the eggplant and serve.