Last night for dinner I made a regularly had favorite in my house - eggplant gratin. I have made this dish at least two dozen times in the past few years. Even though eggplant isn't exactly in season, this dish does make a perfect wintertime meal. The recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's The Barefoot in Paris. Years ago I changed the recipe up a bit just to make it a bit healthier (less egg, no frying the eggplant) and have been making it ever since. Serve with a salad (last night I tossed together arugula, orange, avocado and pine nuts) and a French baguette. These eggplant gratins may taste Italian but served in petite gratin dishes, they are in fact quite French. I am including my recipe for Simple Tomato Sauce, which is exactly that - simple and basic. Of course you can also use your favorite jarred sauce, which is what I did since I had some leftover from the Brown Rice Chili Casserole. It seems that I often make this with jarred sauce because whenever I have half a jar of tomato sauce in the fridge and I try to think of what to make, these gratins always come to mind.
Note: This recipe yields 4 small portions. If you plan on saving a couple of portions for another night or want to make these a night ahead of time it is best to half back them. Bake for the first 10 minutes at 425 degrees F; then remove from the oven; cool, cover and refrigerate. I have tried to make these up ahead of time without baking them and they become a bit soggy.
This recipe is perfect to make for just one or for a large party. I suggest that if you make one full recipe you bake single eggplant stacks in individual gratin dishes. If you decide to make this for a larger crowd you can double the recipe and bake as many stack that fit in a large casserole dish. Either way this is a delicious dish – sort of a healthier version of Eggplant Parmesan. You can make your own tomato sauce or for a very quick meal buy a jar of your favorite bottled sauce.
1 large purple Italian eggplant or 2 medium Japanese eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup low fat milk
1 cup freshly graded Parmesan cheese, reserving 1/4 for the topping
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the eggplant
1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more for the eggplant
2 cups Simple Tomato Sauce
To prepare the eggplant, slice widthwise 1/2 inch thick for a total of about 12 slices. Lay the eggplant on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking dish. Generously salt both sides of the eggplant and let sit for about 30 minutes. (This process allows the eggplant to release some of its moisture and will prevent the eggplant from becoming tough.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Use a paper towels to pat off the water from both sides of the eggplant. Brush the eggplant slices lightly with the olive oil. Lightly season the sliced eggplant with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, flipping the eggplant half way through. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and set aside to cool.
Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. To make the ricotta mixture, in a medium sized bowl mix together the ricotta, egg, milk, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. If making individual casseroles place 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of four large ramekins or gratin dishes. Next, put down a layer of eggplant. On top of the eggplant place 1/3 cup of the ricotta mixture; then put down a second eggplant slice and top with 1/4 cup of the sauce and 1/4 cup of the ricotta mixture. Place down a third and final eggplant slice and top with 2 tablespoons of sauce and a fourth of the reserved Parmesan cheese. These amounts are approximate; there is no need to be exact. It is best to divide the sauce and the ricotta mixture evenly. If you are making this recipe in a single casserole dish, repeat this same process to make four eggplant stacks. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes; turn down the oven to 375 degrees F and bake for 15-20 minutes. The eggplant stacks are ready when the Parmesan cheese turns golden brown. Let cool 3 minutes; then serve warm. You can assemble this dish a day ahead, but the ricotta mixture will be a little runnier.
Simple Tomato Sauce
Makes 3 cups of sauce
This tomato sauce is extremely fast to make, and is perfect for the Baked Eggplant Stacks. I make this sauce for dishes in which I do not want the flavors of a tomato sauce to overpower the dish. I like this sauce tossed with pasta, however it may be a bit too basic for your taste. This simple sauce is perfect with cannellini beans, sautéed and roasted vegetables and makes a great pizza sauce.
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup diced white onion (about 1/2 an onion)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 large can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the can of chopped tomatoes and their juices to the pot and stir together. Season the tomatoes with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Bring the mixture to a slight boil and reduce to a simmer with a tight fitting lid. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Turn off heat and add the sugar. Use a hand blender (or food processor) to purée the mixture, leaving some of the tomato chunks. Taste for more salt and pepper.