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Grilled Eggplant, Corn and Bread Salad with Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette

In this nontraditional take on classic Italian bread salad, basil is a fitting flavoring for a fresh tomato vinaigrette. More surprisingly, basil’s sweet anise-like hints perfectly accent the smokiness of the grilled eggplant and toasty flavor of the charred corn.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, about 1 lb. total
  • 6 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh basil 
  • 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 8 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 ears of corn, husks and silk removed
  • 2 large eggplant, about 2 1/2 lb. total, cut crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 loaf (3/4 lb.) pane pugliese or other coarse country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

Directions:

Bring a saucepan two-thirds full with water to a boil over high heat. Fill a bowl two-thirds full with ice water. Using a paring knife, score an X on the bottom of each tomato. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and heat until the skins loosen, 15 to 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the ice water and let stand until cool. Remove the tomatoes from the ice water and pull off the skins. Core the tomatoes and halve them crosswise. Gently squeeze each half to ease out the seeds, then coarsely chop the tomato flesh. You should have about 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes.

Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a nonreactive bowl. Add 2 Tbs. of the basil, the vinegar, 1 Tbs. of the olive oil, the garlic, the 1/2 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper. Using an immersion blender, process until a chunky vinaigrette forms. (Or, pulse the ingredients in a standing blender.) Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill.

Brush the ears of corn on all sides with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with the remaining 6 Tbs. olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Grill the eggplant slices, turning once, until softened and grill-marked on both sides, about 12 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board. Grill the corn, turning frequently, until charred in spots, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to the cutting board. Cut the eggplant slices into 3/4-inch pieces. Using a chef’s knife, cut the ears of corn in half crosswise. Stand each half, flat end down, on a cutting board and cut the kernels from the cob. Alternatively, remove the kernels using a kernel cutter.

In a large bowl, combine the eggplant, corn kernels, the remaining 4 Tbs. basil and the bread cubes. Pour in the tomato vinaigrette and stir well. Transfer to a platter or serving bowl and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Salads, by Dina Cheney (Oxmoor House, 2009).