Baked aubergines with a tangy tomato sauce and layers of Gruyère cheese. Healthy, flavourful and meltingly tender. Great served with rice or crusty bread for a hearty, warming vegetarian dinner.
This recipe is another that I cooked from Memories with Food at Gipsy House, by Felicity and Roald Dahl. The recipe was contributed by Felicity’s daughter, Neisha Barranco, whose cooking Roald describes as “startling, original and very beautiful”. The aubergine graphic below is also from the book, one of a number of charming ingredient images that pepper the book.
I particularly wanted to share this delectable dish with you because it is one I have enjoyed many times before. I was first introduced to it a few years ago by my friend Thomas who cooked it for me when we lived together in Copenhagen. I still remember his excitement, telling me “I cannot believe that this few ingredients can taste this good”. It is a phrase I find myself uttering often now when discussing aubergines.
I usually make it with regular boring aubergines available in any old supermarket, but this time I had Tooting and its wonderful Asian supermarkets at my disposal, so I opted for these cute alternatives.
The original recipe called for frying the aubergine slices in quite a lot of oil, but I think the dish is just as lovely if you either bake the aubergine slices or sear them in a pan with a light film of oil (as I have directed in the recipe). I also think you could significantly increase the amount of aubergine and still use the same amount of cheese in the recipe if you prefer a slightly lighter meal, but I’ll leave that up to you.
If you would like to make this dish vegan, omit the cheese and increase the basil in the sauce – the aubergines will still be a delight.
Neisha’s recipe also suggests that you simmer the basil in the sauce for 45 minutes, but I really think that this kills the fresh, bright, zingy flavour, so I have altered the recipe accordingly.
As it is, the aubergines are silky and tender, the tomato sauce tangy, the cheese rich and moreish, with the fresh basil lifting and brightening the whole dish. Yum yum.
- 340g aubergines
- 2 medium onions, diced in 1cm squares
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed (or more to taste!)
- 1 teaspoons + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 800g tinned tomatoes
- bunch fresh basil leaves (as many as you can spare!)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 200g Gruyère cheese (omit for vegan)
- Halve or slice the aubergines, depending on their size and shape. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least half an hour. Heat one teaspoon of oil in a large frying pan and sear the aubergines on both sides, arranging them in the pan in a single layer (in batches if necessary). You may need a little more oil if frying several batches. Set aside.
- To make the tomato sauce, soften the onions and garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, blend with an immersion blender and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the sugar and tomato purée and simmer for a further 30 minutes - be sure to stir the sauce every so often as it reduces to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. When the sauce is finished, remove from the heat and blend in the fresh basil. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Starting with sauce, layer aubergine, tomato and cheese (if using) in a 30cm x 30cm (or similar) baking dish, finishing with a sprinkling of cheese.
- Bake for 30 minutes at 150c until warmed through and bubbling. If the top is not lightly browned, grill for a few minutes, then serve.
- To make this recipe vegan, omit the Gruyère cheese and add a little extra basil. This tangy tomato sauce is still a delight without the cheese.