Sunday, July 26, 2009

Take it Easy: Eggplant Gratin

As promised, voila le recette for eggplant gratin (sorry, I have this video on the brain).  It's so paradoxical:  the more abundant, fresh produce there is, the less inclined I am to undertake complicated recipes, even though I have so many ingredients at my disposal (is this how people felt when grocery stores started trucking in all-season produce from around the world?  It's kind of overwhelming!).  I've been doing a lot of very simple things lately:  roasted red pepper and red chile soup; feta, red pepper, red and blue potato frittata; spaghetti with raw tomato/olive oil/basil sauce.  In and out of the kitchen, and on with the rest of enjoying the last few weeks of friends, margaritas, and long lazy afternoons until school starts up again. 

This gratin falls squarely into the easy category.  Now, on salting eggplants:  I've made this guy twice (the second time I used yellow crookneck squash from Mama L's garden in place of the onions) and the second time around I didn't salt.  And it was bitter.  Way to ruin the enjoyment, Diana's laziness!  Salting is a personal preference, and I only do it in two situations:  1) When I'm sauteing in olive oil that's too expensive to be sucked up in an eggplant sponge and 2) When I'm working with eggplant that I know for a fact to be bitter and in need of weeping.  Some aren't.  The white and green varieties I bought from the market last summer never were.  But these big purple globes---I think from Mai Vue Farms---needed it.  It's trial and error, folks!

An Eggplant Gratin
From Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

2 1/2 pounds eggplant (she says "peeled if white"; I say, it doesn't matter if you're purple or white)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 or 2 medium onions, slices
4 eggs
1 cup milk or light cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese (used feta from Bonnie Blue again!)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (red wine works, too)
10 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 2-quart gratin dish.  Cut the eggplant into rounds or slabs about 1/2 inch thick.  Salt if you wish (!) and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet, add the onions and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until soft and light gold, about 12 minutes.  Scrape into a bowl.  

While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with the milk, stir in the cheese, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground pepper.

If you salted it, rinse the eggplant, then let drain or soak up the water with a towel.  

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet.  When hot, add the eggplant and immediately turn it in the pan so that all the pieces are coated lightly with the oil.  Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the eggplant is golden.  This will take about 25 minutes in all.

Season the eggplant with salt and pepper to taste, then toss with the onions and basil.  

Put it in the prepared dish and pour the custard over the top.  Bake until golden, firm, and puffed, 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Also, check out the emerging tomato--my despair seems unwarranted.  My plants may be taking their sweet time, but things are happening.  Yes, I know, sideways picture.  But I have a whole lot of nothing to do right now, and shall not fix it!

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