In Barcelona, a grilled eggplant flatbread would be known as coca. It’s also a close relative to the pizza. Adding XO sauce may not be typical of Catalan or Italian cuisine, but it works, contributing both complexity and heat.
The coca is a little like a pizza but seldom has cheese or tomato as a topping. Typical coca toppings include eggplant and red peppers, onions and raisins, spinach and pine nuts, cured anchovies, or wild mushrooms and herbs. The addition of XO sauce to this grilled eggplant flatbread really lifts it to another level in complexity and heat.
Adding a Cantonese ingredient to a Catalan dish may seem… inappropriate? However, if flavours work together, why not? The origin of those flavours is very much a secondary consideration. Many of the worlds classic dishes are a fusion of elements from different regions. If you like the taste, it’s good.
That reminds me of a lecture on modern art by Arthur Baysting that I attended many years ago. His advice regarding modern art was, “if you like it, it’s good.”
The XO sauce
XO sauce is a Cantonese condiment originating in Hong Kong in the 1980s. It is really more of a relish than a sauce. XO sauce was named after XO cognac. Even so, it doesn’t actually contain any. In Hong Kong at the time, XO had become a generic term for high quality. This delicious relish contains dried shrimps and scallops, red chillis, ham, garlic and canola oil. In short, jam-packed with umami.
I bought my XO sauce from a local Cantonese restaurant. You will be able to find it at an Asian store or on Amazon. Or, you could make your own. XO sauce delivers a virtual explosion of flavour. While it can overpower more subtly flavoured dishes, when paired with the right ingredients, such as this grilled eggplant flatbread – it is culinary gold. Try it with soba and egg yolk, wrapped in a tortilla with duck, or a spring roll with chicken.
Grillled egglant XO flatbread
- Whisk together the warm water, yeast, and honey in a large bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes. Bubbles should be appearing.
- Add 1 cup of flour and 1 tsp salt and stir to combine.
- Add another 1/2 cup of flour and start kneading with one hand.
- Knead for around 3-4 minutes, adding sprinkles of flour as needed to stop it sticking to your hand or bowl.
- Fold in 1 Tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil, knead some more, then fold in the other Tbsp.
- Knead another 3-4 minutes.
- When the dough is getting a little springy (push your finger in and the dough should rebound), form it into a ball.
- Smear the inside of the bowl with the 1 Tbsp olive oil.
- Put the ball of dough in the middle of the large bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 2 or 3 hours.
- Punch down and divide into halves.
- Allow to sit for another 30 minutes. Time to prepare your toppings.
Eggplants and red pepper
- Poke the eggplants multiple times with a toothpick. This stops them exploding when being grilled.
- Clean, halve, and remove the stalk and pith from the red pepper.
- Char the eggplants and red pepper on all sides over a grill. The skins should be blackened. Charing under a very hot broiler also works. A real bbq, if you have one, adds a nice smokiness.
- Allow to cool a bit then cut open the eggplants lengthways and scoop out the flesh.
- Peel the charred skin from the red pepper and dice into strips.
Putting it together
- Preheat the oven to 220 degC.
- Spread the roast eggplant around the top of the flatbread dough. Distribute the red pepper slices and the XO sauce evenly over the eggplant.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the flatbread looks done.