A good cook is like a sorceress that dispenses happiness.
~ Elsa Schaparelli
Many coincidences came together to compel me to cook this dish...
One is that when I shop the local farmers market, I shop with my eyes and nose…what looks great to photograph and what smells wonderful to inspire a meal (or eat out of hand). What ever I wind up purchasing, I try to find a recipe or dish I can cook wIIth that ingredient as soon as possible. Either I experiment and craft a new recipe or use the fresh ingredients in a long-standing favorite. This week after the arrival of my aubergine colored Christmas gifts, the shiny purple eggplants at the Farmers Market were more than I could resist. I just had that plumy color on my mind that extended to my cooking.
The second occurrence happened when I found three mismatched copper gratin dishes in my favorite local second-hand store ”Second Hand Rose”. I often go to this quaint little shop to browse for plates, kitchenware and utensils as props to use for my still-life’s with food.
I don’t always find a treasure, but when I saw that these lovely copper dishes were so reasonably priced, I just could not pass them up.
The third reason is that a dear friend in Rhode Island sent me an eggplant gratin recipe that she loves that was inspired by a recipe by Ina Garten, but it contained too much fat as it stood.
I promised her that I would adapt it to a version that was lower in fat than the original that she had been making with cream and eggs. I do always like a food challenge.
The fourth reason is that I had made a delicious batch of chunky tomato sauce from the Purple Calabash and my own terrace tomatoes. The recipe for the eggplant gratin calls for a marinara sauce. So, I set aside a portion of the marinara for this dish before I froze the remainder for the long winter ahead. I have to admit that these Calabash tomatoes, as promised by my farm market vendor, makes the richest and most flavorful sauce I had ever tasted.
But the final reason that sealed the deal to try this dish was that the temperatures here went from a sizzling 96 degrees to 56 degree today.
It was time to fire-up the oven and cook something to take the chill out of my tummy and the kitchen.
This recipe is for one individual gratin I made in an
8” gratin dish that is 1¾” deep.
You can adjust the amounts for the number of people
that you are feeding.
You can also make this in a baking dish or shallow casserole.
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled, sliced ½” thick
¼ cup low-fat ricotta cheese1 egg, but I used the equivalent of one egg in eggbeaters
¼ cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup crumbled or cubed part-skim Buffalo mozzarella
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan sea salt to tastefreshly ground white pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup marinara sauce
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Heat about 1/8” of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (nearly smoking) add slices of eggplant.
The eggplant slices will pop and spit when dropped in the hot oil, so be careful…!
Cook the eggplant, turning once, until they are evenly browned on both sides and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.When slices look golden brown and delicious, transfer the slices to a cooling rack set on a sheet pan lined with newspaper under it to wick the oil.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, buttermilk, ½ cup of the mozzarella and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg (to taste).
Stir to combine.
In the gratin dish, place a layer of eggplant slices, then sprinkle with half the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan and spoon on the marinara sauce. Add a second layer of eggplant, pour on the ricotta mixture, and finally sprinkle on the remaining the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Place the gratin on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes.
Lower the heat to 375 and bake for an additional 20 minutes until the custard sets
and the top is browned.
Let cool for 10 minutes until the cheese can be sliced for plating or eating from the individual gratins.
I serve this with a crisp green salad and a crusty baguette.