Summer in San Francisco decided to not show up this year (again) and fall is decidedly here. I am pretending that the beautiful clear weather outside equates to Indian summer and that the balmy air I feel isn’t coming from the radiator.
Happily for us fog-bound people we still have an abundance of summer vegetables coming in from the farmer’s markets. It was quite the treat to see a fat, tissue wrapped, perfect eggplant and the last of the heirloom tomatoes in my produce box and a few squash – pale green fat and stubby zucchini varieties – and pretty red bell peppers.
My mind instantly flashed to a new porcelain baking dish my dear friend A___ gave me for my birthday. I am quite partial to Royal Worcester and the beautiful harvest fruit design is one that makes my heart sing. It is an inherited passion. It is also the perfect size for the quantity of vegetables I had on hand and was time for it to be christened with a beautiful eggplant and squash gratin, so I invited A___ over for dinner.
While A___ and I sipped red wine and caught up on the past few months, I sliced the eggplant and squash. The eggplant was briefly fried in a touch of olive oil in my non-stick skillet and the squash was liberally sprinkled with salt and set out to drain in a colander in the sink. As the browned eggplant came out of the frying pan I stacked up the floppy slices on a clean cutting mat to rest briefly. In between flipping the eggplant around in the frying pan and drinking wine I quickly minced up a fat shallot and grated a clove of garlic and tossed them together in a small bowl. The bell pepper was thinly sliced and set aside in a pile next to the cooked eggplant, and several of the tomatoes were roughly chopped and set out on paper towels to dry out a bit. The preheating oven warmed the room, as the wine and conversation warmed our hearts.
Finally the eggplant was done frying and the salted squash had exuded some liquid and had drained sufficiently. I began an assembly process in my new pretty dish.
I laid down a layer of eggplant in slightly overlapping circles, then tomato, a sprinkle of the shallot/garlic mixture and bell pepper. I topped this with salt and pepper and about half of a 4 ounce log of goat cheese flavored with lemon zest. Honestly it was all that the grocery store had that day and I am very happy about that now.
I repeated the process until I ran out of vegetables and cheese. The final coup de grace was fresh mozzarella, sliced thickly and the discs spread over the top of the gratin and finished with a dash of Maldon salt and a few grinds of pepper.
It slid into the oven while we sat around munching on those crazy bright green Spanish olives and some Rainforest crackers. We talked over all the goings-on over the past few weeks since our last dinner, opened another bottle of wine and relaxed in the perfumed air of the Roost as the gratin bubbled, sizzled and melted under its soft blanket of gooey cheese.
Finally the timer went off and then began the torturous wait for the gratin to cool and firm enough to be scooped out of the pan. We admired the beauty of the gratin and completely forgot to take pictures!
Sometimes it is just nice to enjoy the company and enjoy the food without having to wait to photograph every step and every spoonful, it is called living in the moment, and we did just that.
Despite our precautions of draining the tomatoes and salting the squash the gratin was still a bit watery, but the leftover gratin the next day had completely absorbed the liquid which makes me think I should have made this dish the day before my pal came over for dinner!
The flavors of the vegetables really shone and the touch of lemon zest in the cheese was wonderful. The best part, of course, was the richly browned cheesy mozzarella blanket covering the dish and we fought like pumas over bits of the cheese.
Eggplant and Squash Gratin
1 eggplant, sliced thinly
1/2 pound zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise
1/2 pound tomatoes, sliced thickly
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
4 oz goat cheese (I used goat cheese with lemon zest, if you cannot find this add 1 tsp of grated lemon zest)
6 oz fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 F and oil a baking dish with olive oil.
In a skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and fry a few slices of eggplant at a time until they are browned. Set aside.
In a colander, arrange a layer of sliced zucchini and salt them well, and repeat; let the squash exude liquid and drain for 30 minutes or so. Pat the slices dry with a paper towel and set them aside.
Arrange the tomatoes on a paper towel to drain. Mix together the bell pepper slices, the shallot and the garlic in a small bowl.
To assemble, lay down a layer of the eggplant, followed by the squash, then tomatoes then a sprinkling of the pepper/shallot/garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover with slices of goat cheese. Repeat until you have used up all of the vegetables and cheese, and top the final layer with the mozzarella. Add salt and pepper to the top of the mozzarella.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until all of the vegetables are very tender and the cheese is browned. Let sit 15 minutes to allow the gratin to firm up. Better if made the day before and brought to a bubbling temperature in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes.
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a vegetable side.
This is a very forgiving dish, if you don’t have bell peppers or want to substitute an Anaheim chile or add potatoes anything goes!
Feel free to play around! I have also made this with smoked fontina as the top cheese and mozzarella as the “inside” cheese.