|Summer Eggplant and Tomato Gratin|
Despite having recently moved within walking distance of some incredible farmers markets here in Alexandria, Virginia, I have sadly never made my way to a single one. Actually, I have even passed a few while driving and have not stopped. No cash handy? No time? No idea. This isn't to say I haven't picked some pears or figs off a tree at Green Valley Farm this summer, or herbs from a garden or two, I've just managed to not find myself at any local markets or stands.
It wasn't until I found one large, chubby ShopRite eggplant in my parent's refrigerator, did the desire to head out and get some farm-fresh produce strike. I had a meat-less, all veggie gratin recipe I wanted to try and that eggplant would come in handy, along with a few fresh, local additions...
When composed, this dish makes a very colorful, eye-pleasing meal. It's very pleasing to the nose as well. I love my parents, but since I did not find the spices I needed until after preparing the dish (I have no idea where my compulsive pantry-love comes from; I ending up finding a stash of Penzey's spices with a bunch of plastic straws, loose tea bags and an extra key to the house. Who knows...) the dried oregano (I was forced to use) turned this traditional, out of print, french recipe, just a bit italian. The house smelled like there was a big, floppy rustic pizza pie baking away in a hearth somewhere. One really good pizza pie though, so I imagine almost any dried or fresh herbs will do. Especially since the recipe calls for fresh savory, which may be difficult to find.
When layered, and then finished off with few tablespoons of panko breadcrumbs (for the gluten sensitive, feel free to substitute a few slices of processed Udi's bread or another gluten-gree bread, pulverized into breadcrumbs- or omit altogether), some grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, the gratin's bubbling top layer begs you to come in close and dig right in. Each layer maintains its distinct taste, as well as texture. The eggplant remains intact and juicy, and is a substantial substitute for a meat filling. The onions, which are cooked before being added to the dish, end up slippery and glossy from the olive oil and any penetrating juices that seep throughout. The tomatoes, along with the parmesan and bread crumbs, lend a slightly sweet and crispy layer, and adding structure to the dish.
This gratin can be served hot or at room temperature, and reheats easily. It will serve about six people.
Summer Eggplant and Tomato Gratin
(adapted from Vegtables in the French Style, by Roger Verge)
*2 medium sweet white onions
*8 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
*2 1/2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices
*2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
*1/4 c. chopped parsley
*a few sprigs savory (or herb of choice)
*4 ripe medium tomatoes
*2 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs
*2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
*salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 550 degrees. Lay the slices of eggplant in a single layer on oiled baking sheets and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake for ten minutes, until tender, and set aside. Lower oven to 350 degrees.
Peel and thinly slice the onions. Cook over low heat in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Do not let them brown. While the onions are cooking, begin slicing the tomatoes and set aside. Peel and chop the garlic, along wtih the parsley and savory (or herb of your choice).
Drizzle 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil on the bottom of a large gratin dish (any porcelain or earthenware dish will work well). Arrange half of the eggplant slices on the bottom, followed by all of the cooked onions. Salt lightly and then top with half of the tomatoes and sprinkle with the garlic-parsley mixture.
Top the garlic-parsley mixture with the remaining eggplant slices and then finish with an attractive layer of the remaining tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the panko with the parmesan and then sprinkle the mixture on top. Drizzle with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil before baking the gratin for 45 minutes.