Sunday supper and more: Eggplant gratin and a pasta dish (a two-fer!)

If Man of the House doesn’t complain too much about repetition, I am going to make this as often as I can get away with from now until the time of last tomato standing. It’s that good. I’ve been contributing regularly to the Sunday Supper and More column, a feature in the Boston Globe Wednesday food section, for quite some time now and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper. You have to give yourself a little time, but it’s not a lasagna-type effort. The time is in the oven—peeled eggplant slices go in it twice: first baked until tender on a baking sheet, and then baked in the gratin. But like I said, the time is in the oven, and the endgame is meltingly soft eggplant that dreamily blends into the tomato and ricotta. You could use goat cheese if you want something a bit more flavor forward, but consider cutting it with ricotta to tone it down.

The “and more” part of the dish are the leftovers, a mostly maligned concept. Here they morph into a sensational (and quick) pasta dish. More basil and fresh cherry tomatoes brighten it up, and dinner is done, presto!

This was the first dish I made in our “new” kitchen, which is not new at all, but a throwback to the seventies, in the style of the duct-tape approach to living of the elderly couple who preceded us. I’m happy to report, despite trepidations, it went well.

Now I have complained a bit about being homesick for “my house,” which a month ago we willingly and knowingly turned over to someone else (for a price, of course.) I can’t deny that it was the right move, but anyone who has lived and become attached to a certain place and then uproots, knows that it is disorienting. It’s easy to turn down the old street when you’re on autopilot, and then remember, duh, that’s not my house any more. So I’m transitioning and it’s a mixed bag.

In the don’t-look-back-look-on-the-bright-side department, I'll introduce you to our new neighbors, Cheerio and Peeper. These hens belong to the urban farmers next door, who have been away ever since we moved in. The house and chickensitters (and yes, I am aware that word is only one letter away from being a naughty one) are lovely people, interesting and friendly. In fact, they were the first guests to grace our newly screened porch. They even brought a delicious Nepalese dinner with them, so it wasn’t clear who the guests were. See what I mean? Moving is disorienting.

Cheerio explores the other neighbors deck

Peeper Incarcerated

Cheerio and Peeper were recently busted for free ranging, and I am quite sure I know who squealed. Beware of neighbors with perfect front gardens, is all I can say. Anyway, poor Peeper and Cheerio were relegated to their coops for a while. Then the owner came back and let them loose yesterday for a few hours. Presumably he didn’t know about the visit by the town poultry patrol—or more likely, he just disregarded it. Power to the people.

The ladies like to poke around a bit and stopped by the back porch.

When they realized no one was home, they hightailed it across the driveway towards greener pastures on their home turf. Those girls are all about the food.

Which brings us back to the subject at hand: food, and specifically, this recipe—don’t let the summer go by without trying it. Since there are only two of us, I cut it exactly in half (to test it) and it worked just fine, so if you want to make a smaller quantity you could do that. But why would you? We made several meals out of a couple of tests, no complaints.

Eggplant, tomato, and ricotta gratin

Serves 6 (or 4 with leftovers)

2 large eggplant (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices

1 large red onion, cut into thick slices

Salt and pepper, to taste

About 1/3 cup olive oil

5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 3/8-inch thick slices

1 1/2 cups best quality ricotta

1 egg

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil two rimmed baking sheets or line with parchment. Line a third baking sheet with paper towels

2. Spread the eggplant and onion slices in a single layer on the parchment lined sheets. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Cool briefly.

3. Spread the tomatoes on the paper towel lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let drain for about 25 minutes. Press with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

5. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, parsley, basil, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

6. Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large (9 x 13-inch) baking dish.

7. In the bottom of the baking dish, spread half the eggplant slices, and top with half the onions. Spread dollops of half the ricotta mixture over the onions, and top with half the tomatoes. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, onions, ricotta, and tomatoes. Drizzle the top with olive oil, and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Let rest for about 30 minutes before serving. Cut into 12 squares. Reserve 4 squares for the linguine, and serve 2 squares per person.

Linguine with eggplant and tomatoes

Serves 4

1 pound linguine

Salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

4 squares leftover gratin, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Parmesan cheese, grated or sliced into thin shards with a vegetable peeler

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the linguine for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds, or just long enough to warm them. Add the leftover gratin and 1/4 cup pasta water. Cook until hot all the way through.

3. Scoop out 1/4 up of the pasta water. In a colander, drain the pasta. Add it to the skillet and toss with the eggplant and tomatoes. Stir in half the basil and salt to taste. If the pasta seems dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Divide among 4 serving plates. Sprinkle with remaining basil, freshly ground black pepper, and Parmesan.

SHOPPING LIST

3-ounce piece of Parmesan

1 1/2 cups best quality ricotta

1 egg

2 large eggplants (about 3 pounds)

5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)

1 large red onion

1 pint cherry tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1/4 bunch fresh parsley

1/4 bunch fresh basil

Kosher or coarse salt

Black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound linguine

Posted on July 30, 2014 and filed under Vegetarian, Vegetables.