This summer my daughter Randi reserves Thursdays to spend with me. Yesterday was magnificent for me. Randi and Noah (her 2 year old) came over in the morning. We went to Holmdel Park with my son Danny, too. Noah loved looking at and petting the sheep and then throwing stones in the pond. Then I went home to cook, and Randi took Noah home for a nap. Before Randi left, we decided on what I would make for dinner, I ran to the market, prepared this dish, then went back to Randi’s house with the food. We went to the swim club for a great time with Randi’s friend Jessica and her beautiful daughter Maya. I had the best time in the baby pool with them. Noah had his first experience floating with a tube. Then we went back to Randi’s house where I served this really yummy dish (I heated it up in the microwave). I got the idea for this dish from watching an episode of “The Barefoot Contessa” where Ina Garten makes an eggplant gratin. I changed a few things in her recipe, and I added zucchini, which really worked out well. This recipe got the seal of approval from Randi, Noah, and Dan (my son-in-law), so I think I’ll be making this again.
- 2 medium eggplant or 1 very large (I did not peel, but you may)
- 1 very large zucchini or 2 medium-largish (I used 2)
- 1/3 cup ricotta (I used whole milk, but you can use part skim)
- 1/3 cup light cream or half and half, whatever you may have around (I used light cream)
- 1 large or extra large egg
- 1/4 tsp. each kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- about 10-11 oz. of freshly ground in processor parmesan (I used Bel Gioioso), measure 1/3 cup, and reserve the remainder
- about 15 oz. of homemade or jarred marinara sauce- that’s a little more than a half of a 26 oz. jar of sauce (I used Via Roma Marinara from the A&P)
- light olive oil for cooking the eggplant and zucchini
- crushed red pepper flakes for serving, if desired
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make custard. In medium mixing bowl, mix cream, 1/3 cup parmesan, ricotta, egg, salt, pepper; set aside.
Slice washed eggplant and zucchini about 1/4 inch thick. Heat a very large frying pan (I have a huge cast iron skillet that I used; otherwise, I would have used a very large nonstick pan.) After pan is really hot, pour a very small amount of oil in pan, basically just to coat the pan. Drop eggplant and zucchini slices in, brown quickly and then flip, and brown again. Place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining eggplant and zucchini – or alternately, use a grill pan (I have one that fits over 2 burners, it’s really big- it’s a griddle on the reverse side). Just brush both sides of eggplant and zucchini with light olive oil, and grill till nice grill marks form, then flip, and cook on other side. There is no need to drain on paper towels, because veggies are not very greasy when grilled. This method uses much less oil, and it probably produces a healthier dish with many less calories. I used this method the second time I made the dish and I loved making the veggies this way, and I will do this in the future. In a large oval baking dish- equivalent to a 9 by 13 in baking dish, put a layer of eggplant and zucchini, filling up as many spaces as possible, but in one layer. You can cut the slices of zucchini to fill in all the spaces. Then sprinkle generously with the 1/3 cup of grated parmesan. Spoon all of the 15 oz. of marinara sauce evenly over veggies. Then place another layer of the eggplant and zucchini over, using up all. Sprinkle lightly with a bit of the reserved parmesan. Spoon all of the custard evenly over, then sprinkle remaining parmesan evenly on top.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 min. Then change oven setting to low broil. Place casserole in middle of oven, not too close to heat element. Watch carefully and take out when top looks browned, but not burned. Serve.
Note: Use the smallest amount of oil if you are frying the veggies, because the more oil you use, the more will be absorbed by the vegetables, especially the eggplant.