A total departure from cheesy gratins, this dairy-free recipe is one of those serendipitous discoveries that I can't imagine not having found. I make it every year about this time when all the fresh vegetables in it start showing up at the farmers' markets. Everything in this dish except the olive oil, salt and pepper was locally grown.
This gratin truly illustrates the rich depth and mingling of flavors achievable with a simple preparation and ingredients that compliment each other. Be sure to use a really good olive oil._________________________________________
EGGPLANT AND POTATO GRATIN
From The Vegetarian Bistro by Marlena Spieler
If time is short or you are using potatoes that take longer to cook, like Yukon Golds, you can microwave the casserole for about 15 minutes to get it heated up, then put it in the oven to finish.
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and cut into strips
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
1 cup drained, diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
Several large pinches of dried thyme (be generous here)
1 eggplant, stem end trimmed, sliced lengthwise 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
2-1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Using 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, saute the onion and red pepper in a medium skillet 'til softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, two thirds of the garlic, salt to taste, and the thyme. Cook briefly and set aside.
Brush or rub eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides, and cook them on a griddle until lightly browned on both sides. Alternatively, broil the slices under the broiler. I suspect you could get away with not pre-grilling the eggplant slices, but I haven't tried it.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a 3- or 4-quart casserole dish. Place one third of the potatoes in a layer on the bottom, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Layer on half the eggplant, another third of the potatoes, and the remaining eggplant.
Spread the tomato mixture over the eggplant, then toss the remaining potatoes in a bowl with the remaining garlic and olive oil, and spread them over the eggplant.
Sprinkle the final potato layer with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden and the potatoes are cooked through. Cover with foil if top gets too brown before potatoes are done. Test by inserting a paring knife down through the center of the gratin; it should meet little resistance. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes 4 to 6 servings