I love eggplant. I love the creamy texture you get when it's cooked that can go anywhere from baba ganoush to eggplant parmesan. I am passionate about an Italian marinated pickled eggplant appetizer I've been making for years.
Recently I've been contemplating making an eggplant gratin. This is kind of a risky dish because eggplants are so mild in flavor that they can simply be overpowered by the other ingredients you pair with them. At first I thought I'd slice the eggplant very thin and stack the layers, alternating with cheese. But ultimately I decided to cube it and toss together the ingredients. Oregano is a great flavor partner with eggplant and I grow it in my garden, so that would be a part of this experiment. So would onions. And garlic. And panko combined with my favorite Trader Joe's grated parmesan romano combo. And goat cheese. That would add the necessary creaminess plus create a little tartness without being too overwhelming. Instead of using butter, I'd use olive oil. I received a sample of olive oils from Baja Olive and decided to use both the natural and garlic flavors for this dish.
All this would go into an 8 1/2-inch oval au gratin dish I have. At just under 2 1/2 cup volume, I figured I'd get about three servings.
The dish is a little time consuming to make but not too labor intensive. I figured the eggplant should be pre-cooked to make sure it had a soft and lush texture by the end. The onions and garlic need to be sauteed to create sweetness. After that you just combine everything and put it in the oven until it's bubbly and brown.
The result was just what I'd imagined--creamy and crunchy, with a bright flavor from the punch of oregano, sweetness from the onion and garlic, tartness from the goat cheese. That distinctive mild eggplantiness came through. I enjoyed the dish with a piece of roasted chicken. And I have leftovers--which will be easy to reheat. In fact, you can make this dish for a dinner party ahead of time and simply reheat it before serving.
Eggplant Onion Gratin
Serves 2 to 3 depending on your generosity
2 3/4 cups eggplant, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss eggplant with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.
While the eggplant is baking, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don't brown them. You just want them soft. Add the oregano and cook for another minute. Set aside.
Remove the eggplant from the oven and mix with the onions in a bowl. Add milk and cheeses. Mix well.
Coat the inside of a gratin dish with olive oil. Add the eggplant mixture. Dot with goat cheese. Combine the 1/8 cup parmesan cheese with the panko and evenly spread over the eggplant and goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.