Gratin typically brings to mind a rich and cheesy dish of root vegetables (pronounced by all American children to rhyme with “all rotten”). Nutritional guilt over this fat fest drives food bloggers to frantic rearrangements of their refrigerator poetry magnets into epithets like “a holiday indulgence” and “once in awhile treat.” But in the Adams-Rivard kitchen we scoff at such reservations. We eat gratins when we feel like it, whether Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is joining us for dinner or not. Thank God for bicycles. Which offers me a segue into this week’s dish, Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin. While pedaling through Provence a month ago we couldn’t help but notice how much lighter Provencal gratins were than their Gerard Depardieu-like cousins to the north. The cream had vanished, along with much of the cheese, both supplanted by olive oil, bread crumbs, and fistfuls of crushed herbs or an herb purée. Olive oil, our tongues reminded us, transforms the flesh of vegetables into something unctuous. Caramelization, the result of roasting, was the gilding on the lily.
There are no hard and fast rules about a this kind of gratin, other than it helps to use the best vegetables available, in keeping with the principle that if you’re going to go skinny dipping it pays to be buff. Tomatoes always help things along, especially Roma (plum) tomatoes, which are not only better cooked than raw, but are often the only decent fresh tomato available outside of the summer months. Root vegetables are welcome, but with evoo, not cream. Jody declined to identify this particular gratin as Mediterranean–you can read why in her notes below. Serve as the centerpiece of a light lunch (healthy blogging parody) or as a side dish, especially with grilled lamb. Nuked leftovers topped with a soft-boiled egg and a splash of sriracha are a great breakfast (Ken blogging parody). Enjoy. Ken
Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin
Makes one 12-inch gratin.
- 2 pounds medium eggplants
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds bell peppers, a variety of colors is nice
- ½ pound small onions
- 2 pounds plum tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 scallions, white and green part chopped
- 1 habanero pepper, core and seeds discarded, chopped
- 2 cups firmly packed basil, parsley, cilantro leaves–I like to use a ratio of 1 cup basil, ¾ cup parsley and ¼ cup cilantro. You can use a combination of basil and parsley or all basil or all parsley. I wouldn’t use all cilantro, it will be too strong.
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Peel the eggplant. Cut into 1-inch thick rounds. Toss with salt and pepper and then 2 tablespoons oil. Lay out on a sheet pan.
- Cut the peppers in half, remove the core and seeds. Toss with salt and pepper and then ½ tablespoon oil. Lay out on a sheet pan, cut side down.
- Cut the onions in half, toss with salt and pepper and then ½ tablespoon oil. Lay out on a sheet pan, cut side down.
- Cut the tomatoes in half, toss with salt and pepper and then 1 tablespoon oil. Lay out on a sheet pan, cut side down.
- Roast the vegetables in the oven for 20 minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over and turn the pans from front to back. Continue roasting for 15-20 minutes or until tender and the skins of peppers, tomatoes and onions have blistered and the eggplant are golden brown. Each may each take a slightly different amount of time. Remove them as they are done. Cool.
- Reduce the oven to 375°F
- Meanwhile, make the pesto. Put the garlic, scallions and habanero in the blender with ¼ cup water and blend until smooth. Add the herbs and 3 tablespoons olive oil and puree for a few minutes. It should be mostly smooth. Season to taste with salt.
- When the vegetables have cooled, remove the skins from the peppers and onions and cut into ½-inch slices. Toss with the pesto.
- Slip the skins off the tomatoes, but don’t worry about removing the seeds.
- Put the eggplant slices on the bottom of a gratin dish. Spread the peppers and onions over the eggplant. Top with the tomatoes. Bake 30 minutes.
- Toss the breadcrumbs and cheese in a bowl with the remaining oil. Sprinkle over the tomatoes.
- Bake for another 30 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.
This might have passed for a dish from one of my Provencal cooking classes in August, but it wasn’t. I made this a few weeks ago with Claudia Flersismond and her team in the kitchen at the Partners In Health HUM Hospital in Mirebalais, in Haiti. I wanted the kitchen staff to become friends with the hospital’s new convection ovens, so I took a peek in the walk-in and found eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. You can easily roast several pounds of vegetables with a minimum amount of 0il in a convection oven and still end up with something delicious. Roasting concentrates the flavors and caramelizes the natural sugars. Root vegetables in particular shine when roasted, but you can use the same approach to just about any vegetable.
Roasting vegetables and then layering them for a second pass in the oven was not something the cooks were familiar with, but they were game to try, as long as I let them use epices, their all-purpose herb purée, instead of my pesto. As it happened, they liked the dish–and the convection ovens–and I was thrilled when some of them came back for seconds.
I added the breadcrumb and cheese topping for this post. If you don’t each cheese or bread just eliminate them. It’s just as good without the topping.
Healthy comfort food… it looks great and gratins are my weakness ;)
There are much worse weakness to have in life (or are gratins only ONE of yours). Great post about the Ticino experience. I tried to leave you a comment, but WP kept timing it out. I’ll be back. I have a weakness for all things Swiss. Ken
We need weaknesses… gratin is ONE I do not wish to change, the others we’ll see. Thanks for the compliment about the post and Switzerland. I also have a passion for this country.
Very, very lovely. I love gratins, and it makes me smile when I think of its use to describe France’s upper crust in society. I always learn so much from the Garum Factory: I really love the idea of layering the vegetables for a second pass in the oven. And you’re absolutely right to be withering in the face of such fat-based guilt with all the caveats – ‘a once in a while treat’ etc. The French eat cakes every day for God’s sake, and they’re very sexy about it. Sophie
Thanks, Sophie. I knew you were a fellow traveller in the indulgence department. We have a friend in France who has a spectacular eye-roll she combines with that brief inverted smile the French flash before exhaling a little puff of impatience whenever American food concerns come up. Ken
I scoff at your extra “a” before reservations and question the Depardieu weight slam. (So much material to work with with him — plane aisle as pissoir, playing petty politics with Putin, etc.;-). Meanwhile, we actually have fresh eggplant in the fridge! Merci mille fois for a yummy future!
Patrick–Leave it to you to recall Depardieu’s poor runway protocol. Putin doesn’t deserve this gratin! Ken
I like the idea of mixing cilantro into this, I wouldn’t have thought of that! Will have to try that.
It’s great. Just be discrete. :-) Ken
Looks amazing and your pictures I’m speechless :)
Thanks. The pictures are to lure you in the door and make you want to try the recipe, which is actually better than the photos. Ken
Well it’s worked! I will definitely be trying this out! :)
Me gusta mucho tu receta.
Me parece muy bella la forma que tienes de presentarla.
Un abrazo muy goloso.
¡Muchas gracias! Buena suerte en tu nuevo blog con las recetas y la fotografía. Usted tiene un gran sentido del humor. Me encanta el hecho de que su perro se llama idefixe. :-) Ken
Wow this is beautiful as always and even moreso because of where you did it. Congrats to you for putting out such beautiful recipes and for using your talents for good! Just lovely! And so delicious-looking too. Great photography and cooking!
Thank you. We’re the lucky ones in our transactions with Haiti. Through Jody’s connections with Partners in Health (www.pih.org) Haiti has become real to us in a way that most of the world that appears on the front page of the newspapers is not. Try the tart–I think you’ll like it. Ken
I love eggplant and the old Michael Franks song about it (When My Baby Cooks Up Eggplant), which I’ve shared on my blog. This simple, delicious- sounding recipe has stirred up a yearning in me to be locked up in my house for a weekend with nothing to do but cook, eat, drink wine, read books and canoodle with my hubby. Eggplant, when cooked well, has that effect on some people. You had me at unctuous.
Sounds like a great weekend. I’ll check out the link–thanks. I’m just finishing DR. SLEEP. Nice to hear from Tony again. :-) Ken
This looks wonderful, and I just wound up with extra eggplant, so it will be Sunday supper. Thanks, as always!
Of course, now I’m really curious to learn about the Haitian ‘epices’ all-purpose herb puree.
Hi, Sharon–I spoke with a Haitian friend last night about epices. He told me that there is no standard version. “Every mom has her own.” His mother, for example, sometimes included orange peel and ground fish, as well as herbs and oil. When I asked if it were ever a condiment, as versus a seasoning mixture, he shook his head. “You’d never want to taste it by itself.” I suspect other versions of epices are milder, more herbaceous, but that’s as much as I got. Next time I run into a serious Haitian cook I’ll inquire further. Ken
Now that looks like my kind of gratin! I’ve never become fully reconciled to the creamy, cheesy stuff… we’ll have a go at this for dinner this weekend and if al goes well have this as part of a dinner party spread.
Given the desserts that seem to emerge like clockwork from your kitchen that may be a good thing. :-) Good luck. Let me know how it goes. Ken
Will defnitely try this one this weekend!! Looks delish and so comforting and yet not totally gluttonous. I have bel peppers and scallions from my CSA delivery yesterday that I can use, I also have Asian buttercup squash, can’t decide whether to just roast and add to this or make a soup with it. Thanks again for making my Friday with your mouth-watering pictures and easy to follow recipes.
Meant to add, also appreciated the Haiti PIH hospital pictures and story, I have friends who regularly volunteer there, great to see the set up!
We seem to run into lots of locals (Boston area) who do work for them. Great organization. Try the tart. Ken
Wow. So wonderful…
Thank you. Ken
When I first started my food blog I was bemused when people commented on my recipes being hearty. Seriously? There’s nothing wrong with eating healthy fats. Grief, I’m as thin as a rake. But that’s possibly as I prefer mostly fruit and veg. Everything in moderation, as they say. As yet I haven’t made a gratin this Autumn, potato being my fave. Yes, lots of cream and cheese. Could eat it for breakfast!
This isn’t one that you have to worry about the moderation, which is what makes the other kind possible as well, I suppose. Left hand, right hand, and all that. I like eating across the board. My biggest constraint is time. I’ve pinned a raft of your quick bread recipes that I haven’t been able to get to yet. Winter is coming… Ken
Ah! Most of the ‘quick’ bread recipes don’t have recipes as yet. As I’m posting those on my other blog right now. If there’s a recipe you want to try I can always send it email. I’ve looked for you on Pinterest and couldn’t find you. Well, that’s how I seem to be on there. Everywhere and nowhere all at the same time!
It’s interesting that you still call this “gratin”. In Japan, all gratins come with the Béchamel sauce like that’s the rule. Yours looks very tasty.
I think the baking/roasting compactly in a “gratin” dish is the qualifier in France, although I still think most Americans would go along with the Japanese description, or something close to it (cream, cheese, maybe no thickener). On the other hand, this is a great alternative. Ken
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Thanks for the reblog. Ken
j’ai eu fait une recette un jour (mais je ne l’ai pas publiée sur mon blog !… ;( ), à peu près la même que celle-ci, mais au lieu du parmesan, j’ai mis de la mozzarella à fondre sur le dessus… c’était bon également, mais peut être un peu plus lourd que ta recette avec du parmesan !… ;)
Et c’est pour ca, comme j’ai dit, que on a des vélos! Merci. Ken
This looks great! I love that parsley photo too. Can’t wait to try this in my true convection oven.
Thanks. You’re the first to mention the convention aspect, although the recipe if pretty forgiving, unlike, say, a cake, where if you blow it there’s nothing to do but start over. Let us know how it goes. Ken
I’ve never believed gratin could be tasty unless it was doused in cream. Alas, you and Jody have convinced me to give “healthier” gratin a try. Now if I could only convince my husband the eggplant slices were potatoes. ;)
Ha! You don’t convince him–you give him a card with ten little gratin icons on it. Every time he eats a “healthy” gratin he gets a stamp. When all of the icons are stamped he can redeem the card for a cauldron of potatoes slabs afloat in a molten sea of cream and cheese. Ken
I like your thinking. The clear winner will be me. ;)
Good morning folks. Thanks as always for another home run though I guess I have to buy a scale. My gratin was huge. It worked well for guests on Saturday, dinner for two on Monday and likely lunch for three today. It is so delicious and healthy it all the more a pleasure to serve and enjoy. In regard to the convection oven, when I pulled the eggplant out to flip after 15 minutes everything was cooked. Guess I should have gotten an oven with glass doors!
You guys are so funny. I’m imagining a gratin the size of a mammoth cheese at the Wisconsin State Fair. We’re happy to have driven (flogged?) you a bit further down the culinary road to health. Sounds like you’ve got a killer convection oven. Ken
I really enjoyed making and eating this. Although mine didn’t look nearly as pretty as your’s, I did enjoy making/eating it.
Ha! Nobody’s ever looks as good as the photograph–including ours when we make someone else’s recipe. I am glad you enjoyed it. Also, just for the record, I just take the pictures–Jody’s doing all the slicing and dicing. Ken
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