Portion/Yield:Serves 4 as a main course
After successfully growing my own aubergines in a sheltered sunny spot on my patio, without a cold frame or fleece to protect it from potential frosty nights, I felt obliged to cook something special with these wonderful homegrown vegetables. It’s a great feeling of satisfaction to achieve something as good as growing your own vegetables. I try growing as many different fruit, vegetables and herbs as I possibly can, concentrating on the ones I like. After having some successes and some failures, I have a newfound respect for farmers, growers and allotment keepers, as it takes time, attention and a lot of patience to grow your own, with no guarantee of a successful harvest at the end!
The tomato sauce in this recipe is also made using homegrown tomatoes, but if you don’t grow your own, during the peak season, fresh ripe tomatoes should be in plentiful supply at a good price at local farmers’ markets.
This recipe is based on a classic Italian recipe called Aubergine Parmigiana, which means aubergines baked in a tomato sauce with cheese. For me, tomato sauce and melted cheese is the ultimate comfort food combination. You can make this recipe in individual serving pots or bake it in one larger dish. Serve as a main course with a seasonal side salad.
Ingredients & Method
- 600ml Tomato Sauce for Keeps (see previous recipe)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 2 aubergines (250–350g each), trimmed
- 8 large field mushrooms, stalks removed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil sunflower oil, for frying
- 4 large sprigs of fresh basil, leaves only
- 8 large leaves of cavolo nero (black cabbage), shredded
- 320g mild soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
- 2 thick slices sourdough bread or wholegrain bread, crusts removed and bread ripped into small pieces to make coarse breadcrumbs
- 200g grated hard cow’s milk cheese (I like to use a local cheese called Shipcord, but you can find your own suitable cheese or fresh Parmesan cheese will also do)
- 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves only
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Lightly grease 4 individual round ovenproof serving dishes (each about 10 x 5cm), or a large ovenproof dish (about 25 x 18cm), then place the dishes (or dish) on a baking tray and set aside.
Put the tomato sauce into a large saucepan with the cinnamon stick and star anise and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from catching. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse while preparing the aubergines and mushrooms.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat for 6–8 minutes or until very hot. Slice the aubergines widthways into 5mm-thick slices, then lay them and the field mushrooms in a single layer on 2 baking trays, season on both sides with salt and pepper and then brush them with the olive oil. Griddle the aubergines and mushrooms in batches on the griddle pan for 3–4 minutes on each side or until dark griddle marks appear, then return them to the baking trays (you will probably need to griddle the vegetables in 3 or 4 batches, depending on the size of your griddle pan). Bake the griddled aubergines and mushrooms in the oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
Meanwhile, pour some sunflower oil, about 1cm deep, into a small saucepan and heat gently over a medium heat for 6–7 minutes or until hot (the oil is hot enough when a small piece of bread browns within 30 seconds in the hot oil). Carefully add 12 of the basil leaves to the hot oil and fry for 30–40 seconds or until crispy on both sides and bright green, stirring gently. Using a slotted spoon, remove and drain the fried basil leaves on kitchen paper, then season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.
Blanch the cavolo nero in a pan of boiling salted water for 2 minutes or until just softened, then drain. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and star anise from the tomato sauce.
To assemble the bake, either in the individual dishes or in the larger dish, using half of the ingredients, start with a layer of the tomato sauce, followed by a layer of aubergines, top this with some crumbled goat’s cheese, coarse breadcrumbs, cavolo nero, mushrooms and grated hard cheese, then top this with the remaining fresh basil leaves and the oregano and season with black pepper. Repeat the layers with all the remaining ingredients, finishing the second series of layers with some aubergine slices on top, then sprinkle over the remaining grated hard cheese. You will need to push the ingredients down in the dish(es) to ensure they all fit in (if you don’t pack it all in well, then once cooked, the ingredients will sink considerably and your dishes will be half empty).
Bake in the oven for 30–35 minutes for the individual dishes, or bake for 40–45 minutes for the larger dish or until the top is golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with the crispy fried basil leaves and serve with a seasonal side salad.
Please remember when making this recipe for your vegetarian friends to choose cheese made with vegetarian rennet.