Andrew: I first cooked this dish at University for a group of 12 people for a birthday celebration for a vegetarian friend, one of the first vegetarian dishes I ever made. There is quite a lot of preparation, but it is worth it in the end for the taste. This dish is also delicious cold the next day, as the aubergines absorb the flavour and have a wonderful texture.
For 6 healthy appetites
3 large aubergines
1 large white onion
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 red chilli (optional)
1 tsp dried basil, or a bunch of fresh basil
1 jar passata (sieved tomatoes)
1 tsp white sugar
450g pot of natural yoghurt
2 good handfuls of grated cheese of your choice
1 good handful of breadcrumbs
- Cut the aubergines into centimetre thick slices and in a heavy bottomed pan heat some olive oil and melt a little butter. Fry the aubergine slices on both sides until golden. You will need to do this in batches unless you use a second pan.
- The aubergines do absorb a lot of oil, so place them on kitchen towel when cooked to absorb any excess. Your pan will be very hot from the first batch, so allow your next batch of oil to heat up before adding the butter. Don’t heat them together or the butter will burn.
- Put the aubergines on one side to cool. They should be golden, and flexible. Don’t worry if they are a little ‘over brown’ it adds to the flavour. If some of your slices are a little thin or have torn, that isn’t a problem either. When you layer-up they will be hidden.
- Cut the onion in half, and slice into thin half rings. Fry these gently in more oil in the aubergine pan, with the crushed or sliced garlic and the chilli if using that. Fry until the onion is slightly transparent and the garlic begins to turn golden, but not burnt.
- Add the dried basil and fry for thirty seconds or so allowing the flavour to be released. If using fresh basil, add later as in the Bolognese recipe.
- Add the passata to the onions in the pan, with a teaspoon of white sugar and add black pepper to season. When I first cooked this passata wasn’t available in the UK and I had to skin the tomatoes and force them through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Simmer for five minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.
- At this point you can allow the sauce to cool. The aubergines and sauce can be prepared earlier in the day or even the night before, but keep the aubergines covered and contained in the fridge because they absorb other flavours.
- Now you are ready to layer up in an oven proof dish.
- Start with a layer of aubergines, covering the bottom of the dish. Add half the tomato sauce, spreading out evenly over the aubergines. Then add half the yoghurt, with a dessert spoon so it sits on top of the tomato sauce. Add a second layer of aubergines, which can be your thin and torn ones, then the rest of the tomato sauce and yoghurt before ending with the rest of the aubergines.
- In a bowl, mix your breadcrumbs with the grated cheese.
Dawn: Fresh breadcrumbs, Sir?
Andrew: I got these from the freezer earlier. I keep the stale ends of loaves and blitz them through the food processor. I always keep a couple of bags in the freezer.
Dawn: A good bit of economy. And the cheese?
Andrew: Any will work if it melts well. I use a good strong Lancashire with a little parmesan.
Dawn: Or a extra mature cheddar will do the trick, too.
- Spread the cheese and breadcrumb mix evenly over the top layer of aubergines.
- Bake in the middle of your oven at 200°C for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs golden.
- Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes and serve with a nice crisp green salad.
Dawn: I’m famished! Really looking forward to tucking into this tasty treat, Mr C!