This is an easy and (relatively) light dish as the eggplant is not fried, but rather steamed, before being baked with the other ingredients. The homemade tomato sauce produces a burst of flavor. Total cooking time including preparation and baking is 30-40 minutes.
For best results, grate the parmesan yourself — the taste is infinitely better than if you buy pre-grated cheese. To get 3/4 cup of lightly packed grated parmesan, you will need to start with a chunk weighing about 2 ounces (50 grams).
As for the herbes de Provence, this mixture of dried herbs emanates from southern France but is widely used throughout the country. You can blend the herbs yourself if you don’t have access to the pre-mixed variety. For a description, go to the Ingredients page and scroll down to herbes de Provence.
You will need a 1-quart (1-liter) baking dish for this recipe, which serves 2 generously.
1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound (500 g)
2 medium tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried herbes de provence or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. finely snipped fresh basil (optional)
1 mozzarella, about 1/4 pound (125 g) drained weight
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan (about 2 ounces, or 50 grams)
fresh basil leaves for garnish
Rinse the eggplant, slice off the cap and slice into rounds about 1/5 inch (5 mm) thick. Place the slices in a steamer basket and steam until tender, about 10 minutes.
While the eggplant is steaming, rinse and dice the tomatoes. Peel and mince the garlic.
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil to sizzling in a saucepan. Add the garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium high. Add about 1/4 tsp. salt and grind in some black pepper. Add the dried herbs. Stir.
Allow to cook until the tomatoes have reduced into a sauce, about 10 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking. If the mixture seems dry, add 1/4 cup water to the mix. If using fresh basil, snip it in once the sauce has thickened.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C).
Drain the mozzarella, cut it in half and slice the halves.
Grate the parmesan. I find this is easiest if you use the small holes of the grater, and not the tiny holes.
Now for the fun part: assembling. Oil your gratin dish with the remaining 1 tsp. olive oil. Cover the bottom of the dish with half of the eggplant slices. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with one half of the tomato sauce, then half the mozzarella slices and half the grated parmesan. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.
Place the gratin in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.
Serve piping hot, decorated with some fresh basil leaves. Serves 2 generously.