Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Gratin

Time: 1 1/2 hours            Yield:  6 servings

For the tomato sauce:
* 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
* 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, chopped
* 2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste)
* 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, quartered if you have a food mill or else peeled and chopped; or 1 1/2 * (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes, with juice
* Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 2 sprigs fresh basil

For the gratin:
* 2 pounds eggplant, roasted
* Salt and freshly ground pepper
* 2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil leaves
* 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
* 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced
* 1/2 cup bread crumbs
* 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Roast the eggplant. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wash the eggplant(s) and cut off the stem and any leaves as well as the tough bit at the very bottom. Cut in half length-wise and score each half down the middle with the tip of a sharp knife, taking care not to pierce the skin. Lay a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and brush it with olive oil. Place the eggplant halves on the tin foil flesh-side down and roast for 20-25 minutes until the skin begins to wrinkle and the flesh browns but before the entire half collapses (smaller eggplants will require a shorter roasting time of roughly 15 minutes). Remove from the oven, peel away from foil with a spatula (don't worry if you lose some of the browned flesh in the process) and transfer the halves to a colander or rack to drain/cool for 15-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, to make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Stir until tender, about five to eight minutes, then add the garlic. Stir until fragrant, about a minute, and add the tomatoes, salt (1/2 to 1 teaspoon), pepper, sugar and basil sprigs. Turn the heat up to medium-high. When the tomatoes are bubbling, stir well and then turn the heat back to medium. Stir often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and are beginning to stick to the pan, about 25 minutes. Remove the basil sprigs.

3. If you did not peel the tomatoes (the easiest way to remove the peels is to blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes until the skins break and then transfer them to a bowl of cool water where you should be able to slip the skins right off with ease), put the sauce through the fine blade of a food mill. If the tomatoes were peeled, pulse the sauce with an immersion blender or in a food processor until coarsely pureed. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set aside 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and mix with the bread crumbs. Oil the inside of a two-quart gratin or baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish. Slice the roasted eggplant about 1/4 inch thick, and set an even layer of slices over the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon a layer of sauce over the eggplant, and sprinkle with basil, Parmesan and mozzarella. Repeat the layers one or two more times, depending on the shape of your dish and the size of your eggplant slices, ending with a layer of sauce topped with mozzarella. Place in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and browned on the top and edges. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, over pasta (angel hair, spaghetti or linguine are nice for this).