Saturday, 12 March 2011

Take me away

A friend and I have been discussing the finer qualities of European living. So much so that I am aching to pack up and head off tomorrow. There is, however, a catch in my romantic notion. Now I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, I am financially bereft at this particular point in my life so indulging such dreams is not something I'm afforded.

And so, food shall rescue me once again, not only as nourishment but my passport to other worlds that are shamefully out of my reach.

Italian food is a common feature in my repertoire in the form of pastas, soups and homemade pizzas and so I am packing up and heading to France.

The best of France? Beef bourguignon, charcuterie, offal...this is somewhat problematic given my dietary persuasion unless (shudder) I consider a meat substitute. I could enjoy a feast of desserts but I want to prepare and eat something that transports me to a quaint, romantic bistro in Provence where I can linger over supper with a glass of wine next to someone special. All accompanied by music of love and torment, by candlelight...

Here's a recipe stolen from Ina Garten's appropriately named 'memory lane' collection of recipes. This recipe transports Ina and her beloved Jeffrey to the streets of Paris following a trip around Europe as poor youngsters rich in love.

Eggplant (aubergine) Gratin

  • Good olive oil, for frying
  • 3/4 pound eggplant, unpeeled, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (a good vegetarian hard cheese will be fine here)
  • salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good bottled marinara sauce


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Heat about 1/8-inch of olive oil in a very large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is almost smoking, add several slices of eggplant and cook, turning once, until they are evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Be careful, it splatters! Transfer the cooked eggplant slices to paper towels todrain. Add more oil, heat, and add more eggplant until all the slices are cooked.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, half-and-half, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

In each of 2 individual gratin dishes, place a layer of eggplant slices, then sprinkle with Parmesan, salt and pepper and spoon 1/2 of the marinara sauce. Next, add a second layer of eggplant, more salt and pepper, half the ricotta mixture, and finally 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan on top.

Place the gratins on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the custard sets and the top is browned. Serve warm.

This post is your plane ticket and it's on me.

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