When I visited Provence last year, and landed in Avignon, I made a bee-line to the covered market, Les Halles. There, I had the best mix of French-Italian food I ever had. Actually it reminded me more of the Italian food that I would get growing up in Brooklyn. The marinated stuffed eggplant, marinated artichokes, stuffed hot peppers…. I don’t see much of this type of “salumeria” food in San Francisco. If you have never been to Provence, you need to go for the food. We ate one night at the Chef’s table at La Mirande. We dined with 12 other people we didn’t know and the Chef was the host and entertainer, telling us what ingredients were used to make each dish. The meal was simple and incredible — white asparagus soup, monkfish with basil grapefruit sauce (that I will try to re-create in another blog post), and duck with artichokes in a sauce of white wine and liver… yes liver, and it was great.
I was really blown away on how great the food tasted when prepared with simple ingredients: olive oil, tomatoes, garlic. When I came back I started to play with my own version of Provencal vegetables and came up with this eggplant dish. I love eggplant parmesan but I do not love the all the calories that go with it. So here is a version of eggplant with homemade marinara that is delicious and healthy.
I use the French cooking method called the “bain-marie” which is known as a water bath which is used to heat ingredients gently so that the ingredients do not burn and cook evenly. It works beautifully with this eggplant. I peel and slice the eggplant into half moons (down the middle then each half in slices). I salt the eggplant and let it sit in a colander for 1-2 hours to help take away the bitterness of the eggplant. During this time, I make a simple tomato sauce using fresh Roma tomatoes.
Then I line the bottom of a bread pan with sauce and layer the eggplant and pour the remaining sauce on top.This dish is a great first course dish or side vegetable dish. I eat it hot and cold.
2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise then 1/8” cross-wise (half moons)
12 roma tomatoes
I onion chopped
3 garlic cloves – grated using a microplane
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped basil
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup of red wine
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Put the slices of eggplant in a colander in layers, sprinkling salt in between the layers. This will help take out the bitterness of the eggplant. Let sit in colander for 1-2 hours.
While eggplant is sitting, make sauce. Add water to a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cut (score) an X in the top and bottom part of each tomatoes about ¼ “ in length and blanche them in the boiling water for about 1 minute. Do this in batches of 4-6 tomatoes depending on size of your pot. Take tomatoes out of boiling water and peel the skins. The skins will come off pretty easily because of the scoring and the blanching. Slice the peels tomatoes and set aside. In another pot or a the same pot with the water drained, add onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the juices, wine, bay leaves. Bring to a boil, the lower heat and cover pot and simmer sauce for about 45-50 minutes, until tomatoes breakdown. Discard bay leaves and transfer sauce to a blender and puree.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Pat eggplant slices dry with paper towels. Add ¼ cup of save to bottom of loaf pan.
Layer eggplant slices overlapping half moons in one layer, thent eh next until all eggplant is used up or loaf pan is filled to rim. Pour remaining sauce over the eggplant. Cover loaf pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan with water filled halfway up the loaf pan and place into oven. Bake for 60 minutes. Take loaf pan out of the pan and uncover foil. Serve directly form loaf pan or slice and serve on plates.