CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin

The summer of 2015 is going to be one to remember for gardeners and grillers alike. Abundant rain and sunshine have resulted in bumper crops for a lot of people in the Northland, many of whom are fond of cooking outdoors.

While many associate grilling mainly with meat, there’s a growing number of food aficionados who know that the veggies are mighty tasty when prepared on the grill, too.

Two of my favorite vegetables to grill are eggplant and zucchini, both of which I am growing in my garden and will be ripe for the picking soon.

A friend, Jack Stoltman, recently passed on a tip about grilling the two. He said when grilling zucchini or eggplant, sprinkle kosher salt over the slices and allow them to sit before cooking. He said this will draw out impurities and result in better flavors.

Here’s a grilling recipe that I tried a few years ago that contains zucchini and eggplant as well as tomatoes. This colorful gratin recipe was adapted from one that comes from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (Knopf).

If you give it a try, I’m sure it will be something else to remember about the summer of 2015!

Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin
½ cup or more olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, about 1¼ pounds
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 medium zucchini, about 1 pound
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ cup or so fresh bread crumbs (not too finely ground)
⅓ cup or so freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Smear a large, shallow-rimmed jelly roll pan generously with ⅓ cup of the olive oil. Trim the ends of the eggplant and slice it on the diagonal into ovals ½-inch thick.
One at a time, place the slices on the sheet; press to coat lightly with oil and turn them over. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, in a single layer and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon each of herbes de Provence and salt.
Grill for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant slices are soft and somewhat shriveled; allow to cool briefly.
Meanwhile, trim the ends of the zucchini and cut them lengthwise into slices no more than ¼-inch thick. Core the tomatoes and cut into slices ¼-inch thick. Spread out the slices and sprinkle them lightly with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the gratin: Coat a gratin or shallow 8-by-11-inch cake pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of the herbes de Provence all over the bottom. Place one or two eggplant slices, lengthwise, against one of the narrow sides of the dish. Arrange a long slice or two of zucchini in front of the eggplant, then place two or three tomato slices in front of the zucchini. Repeat the procedure to fill the pan with alternating rows of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Arrange each new row of slices so the colorful top edges of the previous row are still visible.
In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and remaining herbes de Provence. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, then toss and rub it in with your fingers to coat the crumbs but keep them loose. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the vegetables and drizzle the rest of the oil over all.
Place the pan on the grill and cook for 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, the juices are bubbling and the top is a deep golden brown. Serve hot, directly from the pan.
Cook’s note: After the vegetables are assembled and topped with the crumbs, the gratin can be covered lightly and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Drizzle on the last olive oil just before grilling.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 203 calories, 68 percent of calories from fat, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 420 milligrams sodium, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.

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