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Recipes

Summer's End Gratin

Sarah West

While you could make this recipe at any point during tomato-eggplant season, something about it calls out to the end of summer, when the chill that lingers in the shadows (or jumps right out and owns a whole day) makes you hungry for something comforting and warm. Any kind of eggplant works; to add a little more complexity to the preparation and the resulting flavor, grill the eggplant slices instead of sautéing.

I once cooked 1/2 pound ground lamb with the chard portion of this dish and found it highly satisfying. I've also used queso fresco or feta in place of mozzarella, and mustard greens instead of chard. Keeping the basic architecture the same, the fun part is tailoring the dish to the ingredients you have on hand and the flavors you like best. I imagine, once summer draws to a permanent close, that sliced delicata squash would make a nice substitute for the eggplant and canned whole tomatoes for the fresh ones.


Serves 4

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds eggplant
Sea salt
Neutral vegetable oil (such as canola or grapeseed)
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 small finely diced onion
10-12 cups coarsely chopped chard leaves (about 1 pound)
Freshly ground pepper
Several large basil leaves, torn
1 or 2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Handful of cherry tomatoes 
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1. Slice the eggplants into rounds a scant 1/2-inch thick (you should have about 8-10 slices if using globe eggplant). Heat a ridged cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, brush both sides of each eggplant slice with neutral vegetable oil. When the pan is hot, add the slices and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, rotating them 45 degrees and cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Turn the slices over and cook on the second side the same way, though they may take less time. Alternately, brush the rounds with oil and bake in a 375-degree oven until soft and nicely colored, about 25 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for three minutes. Add the chard and a few pinches of salt, cover, and cook until the chard is wilted and tender, 5 minutes or so. Turn the cooked chard into a colander set over a bowl and press with the back of a spoon to remove some of the liquid.

3. Heat the oven to 350-degrees. Lightly oil a round or oval gratin dish large enough to told 6-8 cups.

4. Cover the gratin dish with half the eggplant slices and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the basil, then layer half of the tomato slices on top, followed by half of the mozzarella. Season again with salt and pepper. Strew the chard over the cheese layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer the remaining eggplant, followed by the remaining tomato, and cheese. Tuck any small whole tomatoes here and there among the vegetables.

5. Toss the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil and strew them over the surface. Bake until bubbly and the bread crumbs are browned, about 35 minutes. Let settle 10 minutes or so before serving.

Based on a recipe from Deborah Madison's, Vegetable Literacy.