Warm Roasted Eggplant And Wonton Napoleon

WARM ROASTED EGGPLANT and Wonton "Napoleon" is a house specialty at Arugula Restaurant in West Hartford, especially when eggplant and tomatoes are in season, imparting peak flavor. (LINDA GIUCA / HARTFORD COURANT / May 16, 2008)

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    Christiane Gehami
Inspired chefs live by the motto "Been there; done that." Faced with a market basket of fresh, seasonal ingredients, chefs accept the challenge and create something new. Sometimes, however, their creations are so good that restaurant customers don't want to see a dish disappear from a menu.

Roasted Eggplant and Wonton Napoleon is one of those dishes. The layered tower of highly seasoned, roasted eggplant and tomato, crisp wontons and special sauces has had an honored place on the menu since Arugula restaurant opened in 1996 in West Hartford Center.

The dish arose from a collaboration between Arugula owner/chef Christiane Gehami and sous chef Michael Kask. "He likes Asian and Indian influence. I love anything Arabic," says the Egypt-born Gehami, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was 6. A fan of the flavor of baba ghanoush but not its rather bland appearance, Gehami wanted to create an eggplant dish that had visual interest while reflecting Kask's preferences, too.

"I took those flavors — he loves curry and anything crunchy, like [fried] wontons — and combined them," she says. To reflect her Arabic background, Gehami chose from the myriad spices, herbs and sauces that are the foundation of her kitchen: cumin, ginger, mint, oregano, cayenne pepper, sesame seed tahini and spicy hot harissa.

As the growing season progresses, the main ingredients of this dish — eggplant and tomatoes — will be at peak flavor. The dish requires a number of preparation steps, but Gehami says that constructing the Napoleon "is the easiest thing in the world."

Tips:

• Each component of this dish can be prepared in advance because the various parts will keep, refrigerated, up to five days. (Exception: Do not refrigerate the fried wontons; they will become soggy.)

• The vinaigrette has a bold quality from the potent fragrance of curry. It also is a quick way to put a Middle Eastern spin on fish, roast chicken or shellfish

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND WONTON 'NAPOLEON'

Vegetables

• 1 large eggplant, about 1-1/2 pounds

•Mixture of 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 3 teaspoons dried mint, 3 cloves minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste

•4 plum tomatoes, about 3/4 pound

•Mixture of 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley and salt and pepper to taste

•Canola oil

Peel eggplant, and slice into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Coat with oil, then toss with oregano seasoning mixture. Put eggplant discs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.

Slice tomatoes into three wedges. Toss with thyme seasoning mix and oil. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a slow oven (about 200 degrees) until tomatoes begin to dry out.

Curry Vinaigrette

• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

•1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed