Eggplant Caviar with Fresh Tomato Coulis

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1 large eggplant (about 18 ounces)
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 6)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (scant) ground white pepper
4 fresh basil sprigs

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place eggplant on baking sheet. Pierce eggplant several times with fork. Bake until very soft and skin wrinkles and cracks, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly. Cut baked eggplant in half lengthwise. Peel off skin. Place eggplant in sieve and let drain 45 minutes. Finely chop eggplant.

Whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in medium bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add eggplant; toss to coat. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Bring medium pot of water to boil. Add tomatoes to boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to bowl of cold water and cool.

Using small sharp knife, pull skin off tomatoes. Core tomatoes and cut in half crosswise; squeeze out seeds. Transfer tomatoes to processor and blend until smooth. Transfer puree to bowl. Mix in remaining 1ยง tablespoons olive oil, salt and white pepper. Let coulis stand until any air bubbles have popped, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

Spoon 1/2 cup tomato coulis into center of 4 shallow bowls. Using 2 large soup spoons, form eggplant mixture into oval and set atop coulis. Repeat, placing 3 ovals in each bowl. Garnish each with 1 fresh basil sprig.

Makes 4 first-course servings.



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