Aubergine, Tomato and Ricotta Bake

with Parmesan sourdough breadcrumbs

All this sunshine we’ve been enjoying recently has made me start thinking about Mediterranean food. This vegetable bake was inspired by the classic Italian melanzane alla parmigiana, but it uses ricotta and eggs for a light and summery sauce. I like to be able to taste the garlic, but if you’re not so keen then I’d recommend reducing the amount of cloves to 1-2. It’s a great way to use up bread that is slightly past its best, and the sourdough Parmesan breadcrumbs lend the topping a delicious crunch.

Slicing the aubergines lengthways works well to give a little more structure to the layers of the dish, into slices roughly 5mm thick. The reason for boiling some of the aubergine slices is to prevent the dish from getting too oily, but for a slightly richer version  you can just fry them all if you prefer. Serve this with a crispy green side salad for a summery lunch or dinner.

Serves 6 as a main, or 8-10 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS

  • 800g plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 3 aubergines, sliced
  • 150g stale white sourdough slices
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ tsp chopped dried rosemary
  • 250g ricotta, drained
  • 2 medium eggs
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 110g Parmesan, grated
  • 50ml milk
  • salt and black pepper, to season
  • fresh basil, to garnish

METHOD

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Lightly salt the sliced tomatoes and aubergines, and set them aside in a colander to drain for 25 minutes to get rid of excess moisture. This step is important for preventing the dish from being too wet and sloppy.

Blitz your sourdough slices in a food processor until they form breadcrumbs. Spread them evenly across a baking tray and place them in the oven for 10 minutes, turning them halfway through, then set them aside to cool.

In a large pan, fry the shallots in olive oil over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and rosemary and fry for a further minute, before stirring through the tomatoes. Gently heat the tomatoes with the mix for 3 minutes and then remove from the heat.

Fry roughly two thirds of the aubergine slices in batches in a frying pan with olive oil, until they are soft all the way through and a little charred. Boil the remaining aubergine in a saucepan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes, just until soft and cooked through. The boiled aubergine will form the base of the dish.

Blend the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, 60g of the Parmesan and the milk in a food processor (or you can do this with a fork or whisk) until combined. Season with black pepper.

Stir the remaining 50g of Parmesan through the breadcrumbs.

Lightly oil a 30cm x 20cm baking dish. Place a layer of boiled aubergine on the bottom, followed by a layer of tomato and onion, a very thin layer of ricotta sauce, and a layer of breadcrumbs (roughly half). Repeat the process, saving the majority of the sauce to pour over at the end, then gently shake the dish to distribute it throughout. Liberally top with the rest of the Parmesan breadcrumbs.

Bake for 40-50 minutes in the oven, until the edges are bubbling and the breadcrumb topping is crispy and golden. Insert a knife to check it is piping hot all the way through and ensure the aubergines are soft enough. Leave it to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Garnish generously with fresh basil, and serve with salad.