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Eggplant Gratin

2 Lb Japanese or round eggplants
oil for frying
3 Tb virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
2 1/2 Lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
pepper, freshly milled
sugar, if needed
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
2 eggs
1 C ricotta cheese
1/3 C milk or whipping cream
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
10 large basil leaves, cut or torn into small pieces
3 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded or thinly sliced

Slice eggplants diagonally about 1/2-inch thick. Discard pieces
that are all skin on one side. If using round eggplants, halve them
lengthwise, then cut into 1/2 or 1/4 rounds, about 1/2-inch thick.
Generously cover bottom of wide skillet with oil. When hot, add
eggplant in single layer and fry until golden on both sides and
flesh is tender. Drain on paper towels. Add more oil, if needed,
and fry rest of eggplant. Make sure oil is hot each time you add
a new batch.

Warm olive oil in skillet and add onion, garlic and herbs. Stir
to coat onion with oil. Cook gently until onions soften, 12 to 15
minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, salt lightly and raise heat. Cook,
stirring occasionally, until juice has evaporated and sauce is
thick, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If
tomatoes are on the acid side, add sugar to taste to correct balance.

Cover saffron threads with a few tablespoons hot water and let
stand a few minutes. In bowl, beat eggs and stir in ricotta cheese,
milk and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then stir
in saffron with liquid.

Spread a little tomato sauce over bottom of baking dish, then
arrange a layer of eggplant slices, slightly overlapping. Season
with salt and pepper, scatter half the basil, add Gruyere. Make
another basil-eggplant layer. Cover with rest of the tomato sauce.
Pour custard over the top. Preheat oven to 350F and bake 40 minutes
or until custard sets and is golden brown. Remove from oven and
allow to rest a few minutes before serving.


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