I have a great fondness for historical cookbooks, particularly 18th century "Cookery Books" with their recipes for Green Sallats, Herring and Fruit Pie, and A Rich Cake containing a truly shocking quantity of eggs. I also have an inordinate number of little community cookbooks from the last 70 years or so of Deep South cooking here in the US, treasuring a piece of my culinary heritage documented in my ancestors' somewhat perplexing fondness for gelatin salads.
Within the pages of these Ladies Auxillary and Junior League spiral bound volumes, I've noticed a recurring pattern in the approach to cooking vegetables. Largely, regardless of the type of vegetable at hand, the method of attack seems to be "cook it, mash it, add cheese, top with crushed crackers, and bake it."
Despite my affection for reading these recipes, I have yet to actually employ this approach in the kitchen. Yet I have to admit, we still today recognize that most savory foods are more delicious with cheese (or vegan cashew cheese sauce, or crumbled tofu, or anything else to satisfy the creamy component we crave in a texturally well-rounded dish). Thus, as I've been purchasing a plethora of eggplant lately, having discovered a local diner where the cashier sells yellow eggplant from her garden at the checkout counter, it seemed time to move into the casserole category with my favorite vegetable.
Granted, the resulting dish was an elegant gratin, almost a loosely bound, much lighter version of eggplant Parmesan, rather than a mixture of cream sauce and saltine crackers. Yet still, I felt just a bit connected to my family's cooks of the 1950s as I layered the gratin and slid the casserole dish into the oven...
I do believe the ladies of the Junior League would have been impressed.
|I love the way a gratin emerges all bubbly and browned and messy, but they do not photograph well... At least for me...|
3 medium eggplant, thinly sliced, then soaked in very salted water for 30 min, then turned into a colander to drain
4 T olive oil
2 medium onions (since I was using yellow eggplant, I thought it would be fun to use a purple-red onion instead of a yellow onion, just as my eggplant was yellow instead of deep purple)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup marinara sauce or any of your favorite tomato sauces (I used the leftovers from a gorgeous roasted garlic tomato sauce Zach made)
1/2 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese
6 T grated Parmesan cheese
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 9X13" baking pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is limp.
~ Add the parsley to the onion mixture and saute until the parsley is wilted. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
~ Line the baking pan with a layer of eggplant slices. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and pepper.
~ Scatter the onion mixture across the eggplant layer.
~ Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese.
~ Top with another layer of eggplant.
~ Spread the marinara sauce across the eggplant.
~ Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese.
~ Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes or until the eggplant is very tender. Serve warm!