The upcoming release of the movie Julie & Julia (August 7, 2009) has ignited discussions about cooking and blogging and caused me to reflect on my own cooking journey. Cooking always seemed like a big mystery to me when I was growing up. My grandmothers were both talented Southern cooks and seemed to hardly measure anything. Though I truly adored their food, to my mother’s dismay I was never interested in things involving the kitchen, especially the cleaning part, so I really didn’t put forth any effort to learn. I didn’t grow up watching Julia Child and my culinary point of view was fairly limited to Southern and Midwest American foods, so it wasn’t until I tasted good Chinese food at a restaurant in the Chicago suburbs during my high school years that I realized I was missing a whole culinary world. An overseas move in 1989 and exposure to Asian and island cuisine ignited my passion for authentic regional foods.
Everywhere I have lived and traveled (twenty-five countries on five continents so far), I have tasted local foods and endeavored to learn how to make my favorites. I eagerly seek out authentic ingredients and can easily spend an afternoon at an international grocery store and farmers market, and my pantry is stocked full of many types of condiments and spices.
My cookbook collection grew slowly at first, but when I moved back to the United States in 1997 it began to grow in earnest. My first Julia Child cookbook was The Way to Cook, a book I purchased with encouragement from a friend who wanted me to make Julia’s chocolate mousse for her. Last year I acquired a hardcover boxed set of the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking when eCookbooks.com had an unbelievable good deal, and a few others have followed since. Every time I cook, no matter if I’m cooking from a cookbook or from a family recipe or making one up on the spot, I try to focus on improving my technique and learning something new each time, while trying to remain mindful of the enjoyment of preparing and tasting good food and sharing it with others.
So today in honor of this week’s release of Julie & Julia, I am posting a recipe, actually two, adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This eggplant gratin uses a fresh tomato puree from Volume 1 and puts it all together in Volume 2. Julia also included another tomato puree recipe from canned tomatoes, but I wanted to use the fresh tomatoes from our garden. I would typically use San Marzano or Roma tomatoes for something like this, but we didn’t have enough so supplemented with some Early Girl and Mr. Stripey tomatoes. Some of them were pretty sweet, so I omitted the sugar.
Due to the amount of active preparation required, I would save this for a weekend dish or make it ahead then reheat on a busy weeknight. You can make the sauce ahead and save it for up to three days in the refrigerator or freeze it, or you can make the entire dish ahead and partially cook then reheat before serving. Of course for easier prep you can lay the eggplant flat and build horizontal layers instead of vertical, though I agree with Julia’s thought that the vertical layers are attractive.
The combination of eggplant, tomato puree, and cheese gives full, fresh flavor in a home-style dish, making this gratin comfort food at its best.
In honor of Julia’s birthday this month, Champaign Taste is hosting a Julia Child Event, and I’m excited to participate. You can find the full list of all the Julia Child posts at Champaign Taste on August 15.
EGGPLANT GRATIN (GRATIN D’AUBERGINES, PROVENCAL)
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
3-quart saucepan with heavy bottom and lid
4 to 5-quart saucepan with heavy bottom
skimmer or slotted spoon
tray covered with layers of paper towel
11-inch frying pan, preferably nonstick
5 to 6-cup gratin dish (preferably one that can also go on the cooktop), lightly coated with olive oil
1/3 cup minced yellow onion (about 1 small onion)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 pounds (1.36 k) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, juiced, and chopped (recommend San Marzano or other meaty tomato)
1/8 teaspoon sugar (If your tomatoes are very sweet, you can probably omit.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs parsley (You can make an herb bouquet if desired, just tie the parsley, bay leaf, and thyme up into a piece of cheesecloth.)
1 small bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon fennel
1/8 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
small pinch saffron
small pinch coriander
1-inch piece dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
fresh ground black pepper
2 pounds (~900 g) eggplant (firm, fresh, shiny)
4 ounces (113 g) Swiss cheese, thinly sliced (or Emmentaler, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Fontina)
1. TOMATO SAUCE: In the 3-quart saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil until the onions are tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes. Do not brown.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, herbs, and seasonings. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, so the tomatoes will render more of the juice. Uncover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add spoonfuls of water or tomato juice as necessary if the puree becomes too thick. The puree is done when it tastes thoroughly cooked and is thick enough to form a mass on the spoon. Remove the herb bouquet (or individual parsley and thyme sprigs and bay leaf). If the puree needs a little extra color, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. (You can make this ahead and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer.)
3. Preheat the oven to 375° F/190° C.
4. EGGPLANT: Halve the eggplant vertically and cut into 3/8-inch (~1 cm) slices.
5. Bring water to boil in the 4 to 5-quart saucepan. Add salt, about 1-1/2 teaspoons per quart, and place eggplant slices in the hot water, about 10 to 12 at a time. Cook just for 2 minutes, then remove from the water with a skimmer or slotted spoon. Drain on the tray lined with paper towels. Pat the slices dry.
6. In the skillet, pour a layer of olive oil about 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick. Heat till very hot but not smoking. Sauté eggplant slices about 1 minute on each side, and remove to the platter. Add more olive oil as necessary for the rest of the eggplant.
7. ASSEMBLE: In the oiled gratin dish, arrange the eggplant slices purple side up in overlapping rows, with tomato sauce and cheese slices between each row. Pour about 1/2 cup of the tomato puree on top.
8. BAKE: Place the gratin dish on the cooktop and heat briefly until the sauce starts to bubble. Cover loosely with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes to brown the cheese and thicken the liquid. Serve hot.
More Julia Child Recipes
More Eggplant Recipes From Other Blogs
[An original post from Andrea Meyers: making life delicious. All images and text copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.]
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