Eggplant is so often prepared in combination with other vegetables that its singular flavor is seldom appreciated. Here, eggplant is puréed and blended with eggs and cream to create a subtly flavored pudding. Surrounded by a fresh tomato purée, Eggplant Pudding makes a lovely luncheon dish or first course.
1. Place the chunks of eggplant in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt, turning the chunks to sprinkle all sides. Allow to stand for 1 hour. Set the colander under cool running water and rinse the eggplant thoroughly, lifting the chunks with your hands. Drain well.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the eggplant and stir over medium heat until all the moisture is evaporated and the eggplant is tender but not mushy. Transfer to the container of a blender or processor and whirl until smooth.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter 6 timbale molds or individual soufflé dishes. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and cayenne. Stir in the puréed eggplant. Pour into the prepared molds and place in a shallow roasting pan. Add hot water to the depth of 1 inch. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the blade of a knife inserted in the center of each pudding comes out clean.
4. Meanwhile, place the tomatoes in a saucepan. Add the sugar and stir over high heat until the tomatoes are soft. Transfer to the container of a blender or processor and whirl briefly to purée but do not over-liquefy. Return to the saucepan and stir in the thyme, salt, and pepper. Place over low heat to keep warm.
5. When the puddings are cooked, remove them from the hot water and allow them to stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of each pudding and unmold onto individual plates. Spoon some of the tomato puree around each pudding and serve at once.