Eggplant Gratin with Saffron Custard from Sheila Bost & Green's Cookbook

Notes from Sheila:  I used more tomato sauce, cheese and saffron sauce.  I'll probably use a smaller dish next time.  Made 21 Feb 2005 for Cathy, Deb Kong, and Masha Hamilton – an AAUW event.

·                          2 lbs Japanese eggplants or small globe eggplants

·                          Light olive oil for frying

·                          2 Tbsp virgin olive oil

·                          1 small red onion, finely chopped

·                          1 clove garlic, finely chopped

·                          ½ tsp Herbes de Provence or ¼ tsp each dried thyme and savory

·                          2 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped

·                          Salt, pepper, sugar if necessary

·                          2 eggs

·                          1 cup ricotta

·                          ¾ cup milk or cream

·                          1/8 tsp saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 3 Tbsp hot water

·                          ½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

·                          10 large basil leaves, cut or torn into small pieces

·                          3 oz Gruyere cheese, grated or sliced

Slice the Japanese eggplants diagonally into pieces about ½ inch thick.  Discard the end pieces that are entirely skin on one side.  If using globe eggplants, halve them lengthwise, then cut them in halves or quarter rounds, also about ½ inch thick.  Pour enough oil into a skillet to cover the bottom generously; when hot, add the eggplant in a single layer and fry until well colored on both sides and the flesh is tender.  Remove the finished pieces to paper toweling to drain.  Add more oil as needed, and finish frying the rest of the eggplant, making sure the oil is hot each time more eggplant is added.

SAUCE  Warm the virgin olive oil in a skillet.  Add onion, garlic, dried herbs, crushed first between the fingers.  Stir to coat the onion with oil; then cook slowly until it is soft, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat, cook until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes.  Taste and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper.  If tomatoes are unusually tart, add enough sugar to correct the balance. 

THE CUSTARD  Beat the eggs, stir in the ricotta, milk or cream, saffron, Parmesan cheese.  Season with salt & pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Assemble the gratin in an attractive baking dish, preferably earthenware, with 2-inch sides.  Spread a little tomato sauce over the bottom; then lay down an overlapping layer of eggplant.  Salt and pepper the eggplant; scatter half the basil over the surface, followed by grated or sliced Gruyere.  Make another layer of eggplant and basil; cover with the rest of the tomato sauce.  Pour ricotta custard over the top and bake the gratin until the custard has gently swelled and is lightly browned, about 40 min.  Remove from oven and let it rest a few minutes before serving.  Serve with a zinfandel or Beaujolais.