This is a fairly quick dish to assemble, especially if you have soffrito on hand. Since much of the flavor for this dish comes from the tomatoes and basil, be sure to use flavorful, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.
Having a spritzer or atomizer for oil makes this dish easier to make. I recommend using one since it makes it so simple to get just the right amount of oil onto vegetables instead of soaking them. If you do not have one, use a small bowl or plate with some oil and use a brush. Although the instructions seem long, once you have done this it will be a snap the next time.
1½-2 cups soffritto
2 medium-smallish Italian eggplant, around 1½ pounds
3 medium tomatoes, around 1 pound
2 cloves garlic, peeled and de-germed, slivered
10 basil leaves, torn into smallish bits
Olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Romano or mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 gratin dish, 10x8 inch oval or 2 quart 11x7 inch rectangle
Heat the oven to 425°F. If necessary, defrost the soffrito.
Before mincing the garlic, rub the inside of the gratin dish with a clove of garlic to flavor the dish.
Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices, and shake out the seeds.
Cut the stem end from the eggplant. Hold the eggplant lengthwise parallel to bottom edge of the cutting board and slice the eggplant into 3/16th inch thick slices on a 45° angle.
Assemble the gratin:
Put the gratin dish in front of you with a narrow end closest to you. Lay in the soffrito and level it off. Sprinkle some basil leaves over the soffrito, and sprinkle the garlic evenly over the soffrito as well. Start a row of eggplant at the end away from you, with the skin of the eggplant facing up. Use the spritzer to lightly oil the eggplant slices, or use the brush. Lay down tomato slices, leaving one third of the eggplant slice showing. Put a little basil on the bottom edge of the tomato slices. Lay in another row of eggplant, leaving the top one third of the tomato slice showing. Spritz or brush with oil. Continue until the gratin is built. If there are large gaps, cut pieces of tomato or eggplant to fit as needed and fit them in. Season the dish with salt and pepper. Give the gratin a once over and be sure it is lubricated.
Place the dish in the middle of the oven and bake until tender and golden, 25-30 minutes. If there is an excess of liquid, cook a little longer to evaporate the liquid.
If you wish, once the gratin is a nice golden color, add the cheese and cook long enough to melt the cheese, around 5-8 minutes. If you move the gratin to a higher shelf in the oven, the reflected heat will help melt the cheese and turn it golden, in effect “gratinéeing” the dish.
When done, remove from the oven and let cool at least 5-10 minutes so the gratin sets up.
Serve warm or room temperature.
Chef’s Notes and Tips:
Slicing the eggplant and tomatoes a little thinner will yield a gratin almost like a vegetable tart, and it will cook faster. Once cooled, you can use this gratin in a sandwich with sliced cheese and tapenade.
YIELD: Serves 4-6
SOURCE: Chef Andrew E Cohen