This has long been one of my favorite main dishes. I love that little dome of golden ricotta and I love that it’s just as good cold, sliced into handsome wedges, as it is warm from the oven. It holds together well, and with a splash of good balsamic vinegar it is a perfect dish for hot weather.

In rereading the recipe for this gratin from The Greens Cookbook, I was reminded that we had added a layer of Gruyère to the eggplant “to make it more substantial as a main dish.” Such were our concerns then, long before vegetables were valued for themselves. Even before revisiting that last line, I had taken the Gruyère out, thinking it unnecessary.

What matters most is making this when the eggplants and tomatoes are plentiful, in season and full of flavor: late summer would be the time. It takes extra time to make your own tomato sauce, so you want it to be as good as possible. If you don’t have lots of great tomatoes, a good commercial crushed tomato sauce works beautifully here. Smallish, delicate Rosa Bianca eggplants are a good choice here, and they’re now available in many farmers’ markets.

There are three parts to this gratin: the eggplant, the fresh tomato sauce and the custard. I used to brown the eggplant in oil on the stove, probably because the ovens at the restaurant were otherwise full. Today I choose the oven, which means I can use a little less oil and it’s a bit easier, too. You can get all three elements done at once if you take them in the right order: eggplant, then the tomato sauce and finally the custard.

By / Photography By Erin Scott | August 31, 2017

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (or a bit more) small globe or larger oblong eggplants
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 plump clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon herbes de Provence or 1 teaspoon marjoram leaves, chopped
  • 2½ pounds ripe full-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 good pinch saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 10 large basil leaves, torn into pieces

Preparation

Heat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise. If you’ve got 1 large eggplant, cut it in quarters. Slice each piece crosswise about ½ inch thick. Brush the slices lightly with the oil, set them on a sheet pan, then bake until the bottom sides have browned, about 15 minutes. Turn them over and brown the second side; this often takes less time, so check after about 8 minutes. When the eggplant is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F.

To make the tomato sauce, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide skillet. When hot, add the onion, garlic and herbes de Provence (crushed first between the fingers), or the fresh marjoram. Stir to coat the onion with the oil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook slowly until it is soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, raise the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has cooked off and the sauce is fairly thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the custard, whisk the eggs and stir in the ricotta, saffron and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with a few pinches of salt and some freshly ground pepper.

Choose an earthenware casserole with 2-inch sides and an 8-cup capacity. A larger pan, say an oval dish 8 inches wide at the center and about 12 inches long, allows the ingredients to spread to a thin layer along with the custard topping.

Spread a cup of the tomato sauce in the dish and then set down an overlapping layer of eggplant. Season it with salt and pepper. Scatter half the torn basil over the surface. Dab about ¼ cup of the sauce over the eggplant and then make another layer of eggplant, season with salt and pepper and the torn basil, and cover with the rest of the tomato sauce. Pour the custard over all and bake until it has gently swelled and is browned in places, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the gratin rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

About this recipe

Reprinted with permission from In My Kitchen by Deborah Madison, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (or a bit more) small globe or larger oblong eggplants
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 plump clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon herbes de Provence or 1 teaspoon marjoram leaves, chopped
  • 2½ pounds ripe full-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 good pinch saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 10 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
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