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By the Book: Jean-André Charial’s Eggplant Gratin

April 9th 04:04pm, 2013

I’ve planned a fantasy trip in my head to go to Monte Carlo for a few days where I will dine at Alain Ducasse’s Le Louix XV and then take a train to the French city Aix en Provence. There, I will rent a cute little cottage, visit the local shops and cook food for my family and friends just like Julia Child did at her Provencal cottage, La Pitchoune.

That’s why I was excited to cook out of Lunch in Provence by Rachael McKenna and Jean-André Charial.

I decided to make Eggplant Gratin and it turned out fine, for the most part, despite the bitter taste of some of the eggplants. The recipe was quite short, but the way it was formatted was overly complicated which made a rather easy recipe become daunting. There were also a couple of details missing in the recipe. For example, the recipe calls for a bunch of fresh basil, but it doesn’t cite a measurable amount. Additionally, while there’s no cheese in the recipe, there appears to be cheese in the photo of the finished dish.

Yet, these are minor details, and I don’t think they affected the overall quality of the  dish. I loved that the dish was both vegan and low-carb, but it was really oily and the flavor was just average. This oily issue could be remedied by drying the eggplants on paper towels longer or topping the dish with great, crusty bread.

Aesthetically, Lunch in Provence is pleasing and would look cute on my coffee table. It includes photos of the countryside and lavender fields, and it’s dotted with loving quotes about Provence from famous writers and artists. The book makes Provence look like such a sunny and happy place. But did Lunch in Provence at least partly satiate my Provencal fantasy? Not really. I felt pretty ambivalent about both the contents of the book and the dish; I guess I’ll have to keep on dreaming.

Eggplant Gratin
Gratin d’aubergines

Serves 6

4½ lbs. (2 kg.) tomatoes* (I used whole, peeled tomatoes from the can.)
Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. finely granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
1 small sprig fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ bunch fresh basil or tarragon leaves, chopped
4 eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthways*
Generous ¾ cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
Scant ½ cup breadcrumbs

• First, prepare the tomatoes: To peel the tomatoes, cut a small cone from the base of each tomato with a sharp knife. Cut a small cross in the base, and the plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for about 12 seconds, then in cold water for 15 seconds. The skin will just fall off. Slice the tomatoes lengthways, then with the knife remove the seeds and pulp, leaving only the flesh.
• In a cast-iron pan, lightly saute the garlic in the olive oil. Add the chopped onion. Lightly cook (don’t brown) then add the peeled tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and basil or tarragon. Cover and cook for 1 hour over a low heat.
• While the tomatoes cook, in a large pan, cook the eggplant slices on both sides in the olive oil until they are golden brown. Work in batches, draining the cooked eggplant on paper towels as you go.
• Brush the inside of a gratin dish with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
• Put a thin layer of the tomatoes on the bottom of the gratin dish, then place a layer of the eggplant on top. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Form a second layer of tomatoes, followed by eggplant and basil, then a third of tomatoes. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
• Turn the oven to full heat. Put a dish containing 1 inch of water in the oven. To prevent boiling, place a sheet of newspaper folded in half in the bottom of the dish.
• Place the gratin dish in the bain-marie and bake for about 15 minutes.

* The crushed tomatoes and the eggplant can be prepared several hours in advance. The gratin, however, should be cooked immediately before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Flammarion.

What’s your foodie travel fantasy? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Lunch in Provence by Rachael McKenna and Jean-André Charial. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column. 

And now we’d like to congratulate Hugh, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won him a copy of Paul Bocuse: The Complete Recipes by Paul Bocuse. Hugh, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By Meera Nagarajan

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5 Responses to “By the Book: Jean-André Charial’s Eggplant Gratin”

  1. Hao Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I would love to go to Thailand and Vietnam and take cooking lessons with locals and really understand the thinking behind their cooking and how to compose flavors. i love thai and vietnamese foods and wish I were better at making them myself.

  2. Patty Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    France is always a good foodie travel fantasy but I’d change it a bit to try the France/German Alsace boarder foods and the France/Spain Basque boarder foods. A wonderful mixture of different countries foods and cultures.

  3. Kelly Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Paris. Always Paris. *sigh*

  4. StephanieF Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    In a perfect world I’d fly into Paris and dine at Hemingway’s old haunt, Closerie des Lilas, in the hopes of running into someone famous while dining on artichokes, a filet w summer roasted veggies and a glass of champagne. Then I’d head over to Cafe de Flore for a cafe and a pastry filled with with cream covered in chocolate. After exploring Paris, I’d take the train south and spend some time drinking wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and packing up french breads and cheeses for pinics among lavendar fields, or picking olives beneath Mont Sainte-Victoire. Lunch In Provence sounds fabulous! I’m heading to Aix in June! Maybe I will try to make this all come true.

  5. Katie Says:
    April 15th, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    I would want to go back in time and eat at El Bulli. I wish I could have experienced even a single dish there!

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