Monday, June 12, 2006

Napoleon or Napolitain

We made a variation of a Napoleon. Not with pastry and butter cream, but with eggplant, roasted tomatoes and goat cheese. I love these roasty little things. A great way to start any meal.

It got me wondering a bit on how a dessert, and countless variations on that theme, came to be named after Napoleon. Either a great military genius and originator of some of the cornerstones of modern law (Napoleonic Law), or merciless butcher and originator of the eventual downfall of France from premier world power to has-been (sale of Louisiana, formation of German empire, etc.).

There are a lot of possibilities out there. I mean, the guy conquered most of Europe, moving on to Africa, the Atlantic Islands, and the US. Before stubbing his toe on Russia.

So you would expect he had any number of opportunities to try new things, or maybe have things created in his honor.

But I don’t think so.

I like the explanation that the name originates from Naples. Napolitain. Modified to Napoleon.

The flag of Naples, back in the early1800’s, was black, red and white, and is where we get the name for Neapolitan ice cream. That odd layered affair from our childhoods. Apparently they make many layered things in Naples. Including cakes consisting of alternating layers of cake and filling. So it seems the term became associated with many things having many layers.

Including the original Napoleon dessert, which based on layers of a pastry called ‘mille-feuilles’ in France, for the thousands of thin layers it is composed of, plus the layering of the pastry with chocolate and cream, which forms the actual Napoleon.

Naples has a better image to me than Napoleon. Who is not only associated with a lot of war-mongering in my mind, but also a lot of unbelievably boring history classes in high school. Anyone who could cause so much suffering to so many innocent young people …

Naples, on the other hand, seems much more interesting.

As far as I can tell, it has to be one of the craziest, if not most dangerous, towns around. This picked up primarily from reading.

My primary indirect experience with the city is from a book, by Luciano De Crescenzo, called ‘Così parlò Bellavista’, or ‘Thus Spoke Bellavista’, which is a series of completely nutty vignettes based on the observations of a Professor Bellavista (naturally a clever name) of Naples, and depicting the Neapolitan spirit: garrulous, uncannily shrewd and worldly-wise, poetic, life-affirming, musical, and ever passionate about love.

I don’t know if it was ever translated into English, but if so, it’s an interesting read.

Making the Napoleons, just by association with Naples, makes me think of some of the nuttier stories in the book. Like the homeless guy who sleeps in the Professor’s car during the day – it is his home from 8 am till 6 pm weekdays – and he is understandably upset when the daily routine is interrupted by an emergency that causes the Professor to try to drive home in the middle of the day. The Professor comes to realize that the car is his only in a relative sense, more like a time-share than his actual property.

Things like that rarely happen in the tidy little communities of SoCal.

The Napoleons we made are very easy. Just roast the eggplant and tomato slices in the oven, and assemble them in layers with some goat cheese. A light balsamic and thyme vinaigrette goes on top. But it results in a very dramatic appetizer. In the colors of historic Naples.

Roasted Eggplant, Tomato and Goat Cheese Napoleons
Recipe by surfindaave

Serves 4 as an appetizer

4 small Italian eggplants
4 ripe Roma tomatoes
8 ounces goat cheese, divided into 8 pieces
fresh thyme
salt, pepper, olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar

Cut each eggplant lengthwise into 3 pieces. Salt the pieces, and lay them out on paper towels for an hour to release moisture.

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Slice the tomatoes into 4 slices each. Lay the tomato slices on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves.

Dry off eggplant slices, wiping off the salt as well. Lay the slices on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil.

Place the tomato and eggplant slices in the oven, and roast for 25 to 35 minutes, until the eggplant slices are browned, and the tomato slices are well roasted. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

When eggplant and tomato slices are cooled, begin assembling Napoleons. Each eggplant is cut into two outside slices and one middle slice. Lay four of the outside slices on a serving plate. Place a piece of goat cheese on each eggplant slice, and spread gently. Place two tomato slices on top of the goat cheese on each stack.

Carefully spread one of the goat cheese pieces onto each of the four middle eggplant slices. Place these on top of the existing stacks. Top each stack with two tomato slices. Place the final four outside eggplant slices on top.

In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Drizzle in olive oil, whisking, until emulsified.

Spoon dressing over eggplant stacks. Garnish with additional thyme leaves, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!

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