Roasted Eggplant Soup with Saffron Mayyonnaise
Serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 firm, shiny eggplants, weighing in all 1 1/2 lbs
About 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large red or torpedo onion, halved but not peeled
1 large or 2 medium red peppers, halved and seeded
2 medium ripe tomatoes
4 to 5 thyme branches or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
7 cups water or stock
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup diced bread tossed with 2 tbsp olive oil

Saffron Mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt, preferably coarse sea salt
1/2 cup light olive oil or peanut oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp saffron threads dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
Lemon juice or vinegar to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Wipe the outside of the eggplants, halve them lengthwise, and brush the entire surface with olive oil. Salt and pepper the cut surfaces, set the halves on a baking sheet and start them baking. Brush olive oil on the cut sides of the onion, both sides of the peppers, and the tomatoes, and add them to the pan with the eggplant after it has baked 20 minutes. Continue baking another 20 minutes or so, until the eggplant is soft and is beginning to collapse, and the skins of all the vegetables are loose and wrinkled. Remove the vegetables from the oven and cool briefly. Take off what you can of the pepper skins and peel the onions; then roughly chop all the vegetables into large pieces.

Slowly warm 2 tbsp of olive oil with the thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and dried basil. After several minutes add the baked vegetables, salt, and the chopped basil. Pour in the water or stock, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer slowly for 25 minutes.

Cool the soup briefly; then puree it in a blender at a low speed, preserving some texture and small flecks of the pepper and eggplant skins. Return it to the pot and season to taste with salt and lemon juice. Thin with additional water or stock if needed.

Prepare the Saffron Mayonnaise. Just before serving, toast the croutons in the oven until they are crisp and golden brown. Serve the soup with a spoonfull of the mayonnaise in each bowl, along with a handful of croutons. A scattering of chopped basil leaves will give additional color and freshness to the soup.

If the egg is cold from the refrigerator, set it in a bowl of hot water for a minute or so to warm it up.

Pound the garlic with the salt in a mortar until it forms a smooth paste. Add the egg yolk, and stir briskly for about a minute with the pestle. Whisk in the olive or peanut oil, drop by drop at first, then adding it in larger amounts as you go along. When all the oil is incorporated, add the cayenne and the dissolved saffron. Season to taste with lemon juice or vinegar.

Thin the mayonnaise by stirring in hot water by the spoonfull until you have the consistency you want. If it is not to be used right away, cover and refrigerate until needed; then bring it to room temperature before serving.

-Deborah Madison, The Greens Cook Book