A great gratin recipe from the city of food

Entertaining

Eggplant layered with tomato is good at home, too

Entertaining

August 11, 2002|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

Once again this summer my husband and I found ourselves living and working in Paris for several weeks. We rented the same apartment with its tiny but efficient kitchen, and as soon as we had unpacked our bags, I was out the door with my bright red shopping cart.

I couldn't wait to fill it with crisp, slender baguettes from the bakery, with beautiful fruits and vegetables from the neighborhood produce store, with favorite cheeses from the fromagerie and, of course, with sweet indulgences from the patisserie. My love affair with French food became obvious to those who lived in our building, for each time I returned to our apartment, I was laden with such purchases.

A neighbor, who knew of my culinary interests and work, arrived at our door one day with a beautiful tomato and eggplant gratin she had just made, for us to enjoy at dinner that night. From the first bite, I swooned over the delicious combination of flavors. I asked for the recipe, but my friend explained that she had no written directions and offered instead to come and prepare the dish with me. Carefully, I measured and took notes as we cooked together.

Back home on this side of the Atlantic, I have already used the gratin for a company meal. This time grilled steaks, corn on the cob and a salad of mesclun greens accompanied the tomato and eggplant creation. The gratin is perfect for entertaining, since it can be prepared several hours in advance and served either at room temperature or reheated.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

Gratin of Eggplant and Tomatoes

Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup olive oil plus a little extra for oiling the baking pan

1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of unflavored dry bread crumbs

3 pounds ripe, but not mushy, tomatoes

one 1-pound eggplant, unpeeled but rinsed and patted dry

3 large cloves garlic

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons herbes de Provence (see note)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of a medium (2-quart) oven-to-table baking pan, then sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a sharp knife, cut an X on the bottom of each tomato. Then drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon, and, using a sharp knife, peel off the skins and remove stems. Slice tomatoes into 1/4 -inch-thick rounds and set aside.

Remove and discard stem from the eggplant and cut into thin, 1/8 -inch-thick rounds. Set aside.

Peel and mince the garlic cloves and place in a small bowl along with the parsley. Mix well and set aside.

Make a layer of tomato slices in the baking pan. Salt and pepper generously and sprinkle with a generous teaspoon of herbes de Provence. Make a layer of eggplant slices and repeat seasonings. Spread the parsley and garlic mixture over the eggplant. Then make another layer of tomatoes and seasonings, followed by another layer of eggplant and seasonings. Finally, make one last layer of tomatoes and seasonings. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the tomatoes and coat with remaining bread crumbs.

Bake until vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife and crust is golden and crisp, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove and cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The gratin can be baked 4 to 5 hours ahead; leave at room temperature and reheat in a preheated 400-degree oven until warm, 20 minutes or longer.)

Note: Herbes de Provence is the name given to a mixture of dried herbs used in southern France. The most typical herbs included are basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. You can find the mixture in specialty food markets and in some groceries. For a good homemade version, mix in a small bowl 3 tablespoons dried thyme leaves, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons dried summer savory and 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram.

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