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Damaged Goods Gratin of Tomatoes, Eggplant and Chard

After six months of drought, recalls cookbook author Deborah Madison, they were greeted with an onslaught of hail, lightening and blinding sheets of water. Of course, they needed the moisture, but such a violent storm? The chard, squash and beet greens were torn to shreds by the ice, the eggplants and tomatoes were pockmarked, and everything was splattered with mud. She thought it best to go ahead and pick the damaged vegetables and she did, harvesting armloads of tattered and torn chard and heaps of eggplants and tomatoes, which she used to make a gratin. It ended up moist and succulent, a keeper, and there’s no need to wait for a hailstorm to make this dish.

Measurements are loose here. Madison actually used a big, oval Rosa Bianca eggplant mixed with some Fairy Tales and other varieties. The tomatoes were a large beefsteak type, a handful of small Sun Golds and some intermediate-size Green Zebras.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, such as Black Beauty or Rosa Bianca
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Sunflower seed oil or olive oil as needed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 10 to 12 cups coarsely chopped chard leaves (about 1 lb.)
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Several large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 or 2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Handful of small fruit-type tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Directions:

Slice the eggplants into rounds a scant 1/2 inch thick. You should have 8 to 10 slices. Unless the eggplants are very fresh, salt the slices lightly and let stand for 30 minutes, then blot dry with paper towels.

Heat a ridged cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, brush both sides of each eggplant slice with sunflower seed oil. When the pan is hot, add the slices and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, rotating them 45 degrees, and then cooking for 5 to 7 minutes more. Turn the slices over and cook on the second side the same way. The second side may take less time because the pan will have amassed more heat. (Alternatively, brush the rounds with oil and bake in a 375°F oven until soft and nicely colored, about 25 minutes.)

In a wide fry pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add the chard and a few pinches of salt, cover and cook until the chard is wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Turn the cooked chard into a colander or sieve set over a bowl to drain, then press with the back of a spoon to remove some of the liquid. It needn’t be bone-dry, as it will give moisture to the dish.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a round or oval gratin dish large enough to hold 6 to 8 cups.

Cover the gratin dish with half of the eggplant slices and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the basil, then layer half of the tomato slices on top, followed by half of the mozzarella. Season again with salt and pepper. Strew the chard over the cheese layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer the remaining eggplant slices, followed by the remaining tomato slices and cheese. Tuck any small whole tomatoes here and there among the vegetables.

Toss the bread crumbs with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil to moisten and strew them over the surface. Bake until the gratin is bubbly and the bread crumbs are browned, about 35 minutes. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Adapted from Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, 2013).