As a child, chef, author and TV personality Justine Schofield was infatuated with food; an obsession she attributes to her French heritage. “Food is life,” she says, “and it was ingrained in me as a young child that eating well is one life’s great pleasures.”
It’s the vivid memories of watching her grandmother and mother navigating the kitchen “so seamlessly” that have propelled Schofield to pursue a life ensconced in creating food. From her early days on the first series of Masterchef, where she made it to fourth place, to the nearly 700 episodes of her Network Ten cooking show, and the four best-selling books she’s produced (including her latest, “The Slow Cook“), Schofield is firmly established as a crowd favourite in the Australian food scene. And so are her easy-to-made and easy-to-consume recipes.
Here she shares her favourite winter comfort food recipe, Eggplant and Mushroom cottage pie; a vegetarian version of the classic meat-lover’s dish. (Challenging non-vegetarians is somewhat of a hobby for her.) “I’ve tested this a few times on my meat-fiend friends, without telling them they were having a vegetarian meal,” she explains. “They were completely blown away by the mushrooms and the eggplant ‘imitating’ meat.”
The secret, shs says, is that eggplant and mushroom are the “meatiest” of all the vegetables, so they effectively emulate meat. “It gives the ragu a lovely rich flavour because eggplant and mushroom are like sponges with the other ingredients, and they also pair nicely with the wine and the spices and herbs.”
Schofield admits that each season encourages her to try new dishes and to react to the way the weather makes her feel. “When the winter weather rolls in, the gears change on my style of cooking,” she says. “From fresh salads to hearty and rich dishes like cottage pies which are usually meat-based. This year, I wanted to take that concept and give classic winter dishes like this a veggie makeover without sacrificing on flavour. The main aim was to get all the meat lovers out there to enjoy this recipe just as much as a traditional cottage pie.”
Eggplant And Mushroom Cottage Pie
“We usually associate a hearty cottage pie with a meat filling but eggplant and mushroom make a great vegetable substitute,” explains Schofield. “This dish is not only loved by my vegetarian connoisseurs but by my meat-loving family and friends too.”
- 30 g dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 eggplants (about 800 g), peeled and cut into 3 cm cubes
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and chopped, plus extra to serve
- 400 g mixed mushrooms (such as button, shiitake, oyster), roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 250 ml (1 cup) red wine (such as shiraz or cabernet sauvignon)
- 400 g can whole peeled tomatoes, juices drained and tomatoes crushed
- 50 g walnuts, finely chopped 20 g parmesan, finely grated
- 6 desiree potatoes (about 1 kg), peeled and quartered
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- 50 g butter
- 180 ml (3/4 cup) milk
- Soak the porcini mushrooms in 500 ml (2 cups) of hot water for 15 minutes to rehydrate.
- Toss the eggplant and 1 tablespoon of salt together and stand in a colander for 30 minutes to soften and drain slightly. Rinse the salt off the eggplant, then pat dry with paper towel.
- Heat a large, heavy-based sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half the eggplant and fry for 5–6 minutes until the eggplant is golden. Set aside on a plate and repeat with more oil and the rest of the eggplant. Add the remaining oil, the onion, carrot, garlic, chilli flakes, cinnamon and chopped rosemary and cook over medium heat for 3–4 minutes to soften. Stir in the mixed mushroom and coat in the onion mixture, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 3–4 minutes to soften and get some colour on the mushroom. Add the tomato paste and cook for
2 minutes to darken slightly. Deglaze with the wine and simmer until reduced by at least one-third. Add the crushed tomatoes. Roughly chop the porcini and add along with the soaking liquid, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Stir through.
- Return the eggplant to the pan and add a pinch of pepper. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or until the ragu is thick and rich.
- Meanwhile, to make the mash, place the potato in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and add a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then cook for 20 minutes until the potato is soft. Drain in a colander and allow the steam to dissipate. Return the potato to the pan and mash, then add the butter and mash through. Pour in the milk and whip with a wooden spoon until a smooth thick mash forms. Check the seasoning and add a pinch of pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Pour the eggplant ragu into a 2 litre capacity casserole dish. Dollop the mash over the top. Sprinkle over the walnuts and parmesan and scatter on the extra rosemary. Place the dish on a baking tray and bake for 25–30 minutes until golden on top.
Slow Cooker method:
Follow steps 1, 2 and 3. Pour the mushroom mixture into the slow cooker along with the eggplant. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7–8 hours, or until the ragu is thick and rich. Follow steps 5, 6 and 7