Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week she creates a luscious roasted eggplant dish inspired by the rustic beauty of the Greek Isles.
Built atop an ancient volcano, the island of Santorini had little to offer relief from the scorching sun on the afternoon we set off on our road trip. We were in pursuit of locally recommended food and wine in the hilltop villages and our first stop was marked by a rocky field dotted with green patches at the base of a stone-terraced hill.
Wreaths of twisted grapevines stretched across the landscape, their leaves shading its delicate budding flowers and patches of ground around it. The vines had been woven together in tight spirals close to the ground to protect their bounty from the high-winds and relentless sun.
Rows of bottles, potted flowers, and retired grapevine-wreaths adorned the walls of the winery down the road. We cooled down with a walk through the clay-insulated cellar of wine-stained barrels and sips of local wine boasting notes of citrus and apricot.
We drove further across the island, taking in the surreal views of ruby-toned volcanic cliffs rising from the turquoise sea as we approached our final destination where we were to have lunch.
At the waiter’s recommendation we ordered the local specialty featuring white eggplant and tomatoes. Rich, tomato-infused eggplant provided a bright acidity that was balanced by creamy cheese and earthy basil. We scrapped up every last bit with the table bread as we sipped on our wine.
Back in San Diego I make my own version of this rustic dish using purple eggplant halves roasted with lots of local olive oil, smothered in garlic-and-wine-laced tomato sauce and topped with creamy feta and herbaceous oregano. With a glass of white wine and a loaf of fresh crusty bread, it’s a meal I like to enjoy on my patio in Little Italy, each bite bringing the striking terrain of Santorini closer into view.