Eggplant layered with tomato sauce and topped with saffron custard makes an elegant and delicious main course.
large frying pan(s)
large baking dish
1/8 t saffron
3 T hot water
2 pounds eggplant, in ½ inch slices
several T olive or vegetable oil for high-heat
2 T olive oil
1 small red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t dried herbs
2½ pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 3 c tomato sauce
sugar (if necessary)
1 c ricotta cheese
¾ c milk or cream
½ c Parmesan cheese, grated
10-12 large basil leaves
3 oz Gruyère cheese, grated or sliced
Crumble saffron into a small bowl of hot water and set aside.
Cover the bottom of one or more frying pans with oil. When the oil is very hot, add a single layer of eggplant and fry until golden. Turn and repeat – each slice should be golden brown and tender. Transfer to platter lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil if necessary.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in small frying pan, add onion, garlic, and herbs, and sauté over low heat for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Add tomatoes, increase heat, and cook about 15 minutes, until thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and, if necessary, sugar.
Meanwhile, beat eggs, then add ricotta, milk, saffron water, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Spread about a cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, then cover with an overlapping layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half of the basil, torn into pieces. Top with Gruyère, then another layer of eggplant and basil, then the rest of the tomato sauce. Carefully spread the ricotta/saffron custard on top.
Bake about 40 minutes, until golden and slightly puffy. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve with something neutral like rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes.
Adapted from The Greens Cookbook: Extraordinary vegetarian cuisine from the celebrated restaurant, by Deborah Madison with Edward Espe Brown.