Melanzane gratin

(I had to show you what was hiding beneath the Mozzarella before we begin.)

Melanzane, Aubergine, is one of my favourite vegetables, therefore the day I discovered this dish, was one of the best.

Whilst I was a student, I worked in three restaurants: Two Italian and one vegetarian. The best thing of working at a restaurant is that you are fed, very nicely, on the days you work. As student, you have to be so careful with you money, that this perk is a very special treat , specially when you work at a nice restaurant.

The original recipe, the Italian one (melanzane parmigiana) , is for a layered gratin of aubergines( eggplants) with parmesan cheese but my recipe is somehow less strict. Just like me.

Cooking time: 40 minutes prep+ overnight+ 30 minutes oven
Quantity: This mix serves 4

Tips:

1. Buy the freshest vegetables that you can. There is nowhere to hide in this dish.
2. Slice the vegetables in very very thin slices (3mm) to grill individually. Cut them perpendicular to their length: round-ish.
3. I recommend that you slice the aubergine first. Spread the slices on kitchen paper and sprinkle them with salt. After five minutes, turn them to the other side and do the same. Five minutes later wash them and tap them dry. This will deal with any bitterness.

Ingredients:

1 large aubergine
2 courgettes (zucchinis)
7 chestnut mushrooms
1 mozzarella di buffala ball
A hand full of basil leaves

For the tomato sauce:
4 garlic cloves crushed
3 spoons of olive oil
1 tin of chopped tomatoes (400gr)
A coffee spoon of oregano
Maldon salt

Cooking Instructions:

Place the oil and the garlic in a pan and heat in a medium heat until light golden.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the oregano and cook for 15 minutes. Taste, adjust salt if required. Cook for further five minutes.

Use a wide frying pan with a tiny bit of oil to avoid the slices to get stuck to the pan and break when you want to turn them. Grill the vegetables, one layer at the time. Do not pile them up.

Make sure that you cook them well in each side. I normally turn them twice ,each side, rather than leave them to cook longer in each side in order to avoid burning them.

When cooked, pile them up by type, not in a messy pile.

When you have the sauce and the vegetables ready, get an oven proof dish (I use a round one, Pyrex glass of around 20 cm diameter) and spoon a thin layer of the tomato sauce in the bottom of it. Then lay a layer of the aubergines. Tomato sauce. A layer of the courgettes. Tomato sauce. Mushrooms. Tomato sauce. Basil leaves and courgettes. Tomato sauce. And the top layer of aubergines.

Top up with mozzarella, basil leaves and cover. Leave in the fridge overnight. This will bring all the flavours together.

The next day:Preheat the oven at 180 degrees c, gas mark 4 about 5 minutes, then cook for 25 and enjoy.

Photographs by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate
Recipe by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate

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