I like to call this ‘Nightshade Pie’ because tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes are curiously related as members of the Solanum or ‘Nightshade’ family. There’s nothing deadly about this recipe however and it makes a hearty vegetarian main course or one-dish accompaniment to meat that’s perfect for fall.
It goes particularly well with lamb and would be fabulous served with a roast, braised lamb shanks (see next week’s blog); steaks or chops – or even lamb sausages if you can find them. A traditional butcher or your local Whole Foods might make their own sausages, depending on where you live. Lamb sausages are great value but tend to be fatty so if you pan-fry them, use a skillet with a ridged base if possible and cook them slowly over a low heat without any added oil.
Back to this stellar vegetable pie; experiment with your favorite herbs in the tomato/onion part but the combination of fresh rosemary and ground cinnamon is unusually good. Cinnamon goes surprisingly well with tomatoes (as in this Moroccan Spiced Tomato Jam recipe) and shouldn’t be left out.
You can use pecorino, grana padano or any other hard Italian cheese in the pie and the topping is a light, fluffy combination of ricotta cheese beaten with egg. Just add a splash of milk or half & half if it’s a bit too thick to spread.
The entire dish can be prepared ahead up to the point of baking; just cover and chill.
CHEESY EGGPLANT (Aubergine), POTATO & TOMATO PIE
(Serves 4-6 as a main course / 6-8 as a side dish)
24 oz (675g) of large baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed or finely minced
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary
14 oz (400g) can of chopped Italian tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants (aubergines) trimmed and sliced lengthways about ¼ inch (1/2cm) thick
3oz (85g) of grated parmigiano reggiano (or pecorino, etc)
1 lb (500g) carton of ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 375F (190C). Put the potato slices in a pan and just cover them with lightly salted cold water. Bring to a boil then boil for 5-7 minutes or until slightly tender (don’t overcook them). Drain and set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion and garlic until soft, then add the rosemary, cinnamon and canned tomatoes with their juice. Simmer gently uncovered, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.
Heat a griddle or frying pan until it’s good and hot. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with the remaining olive oil and cook them for approx 3 minutes each side until they’ve softened and tinged brown in places.
To assemble the dish; spread half of the cooked potato slices in the bottom of a 3 pint (1.5ltr) fairly shallow baking dish. Layer half of the eggplant slices over the potatoes then pour all of the tomato mixture on top, followed by half of the grated cheese. Arrange the remaining potato slices on top of this, followed by the rest of the eggplant.
Whisk the ricotta with the egg (diluted with a little milk or cream if it’s too thick). Spread this all over the pie and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. You can make it up to 48 hrs ahead to this point – cool, cover and chill.
Bake for approx 45-50 minutes until the topping is golden and slightly puffy and serve while it’s piping hot.