Cooking to Impress
I’ve developed a taste for rustic, Mediterranean food in recent weeks. With it came an urge to make this Roasted Eggplant-Tomato Gratin. I adapted it a bit from one Melissa Clark aired in her new cookbook Dinner: Changing the Game. She calls it one of her go-to dishes, when she’s “cooking to impress.”
Melissa thinks of the tomato-eggplant duo as something she’d serve “out of a cute little farmhouse in southern France with vegetables just harvested from the garden.” Indeed, the dish looks like it would be right at home on a kitchen table in Provence. Or better yet, on my old, oak table at the farm.
Once I got the dish in the oven, the whole place filled with a wonderful agrarian aroma. Like Melissa, when I closed my eyes, I felt temporarily transported to a wood-burning kitchen in a quaint French village. It was divine.
Despite my kitchen reverie, I had one gripe with the recipe. It called for goat cheese. I had purchased a crumbled variety and interspersed the bits between slices of the tomato and eggplant before slipping the dish into a 400 degree oven. Fifty minutes later, the cheese hadn’t melted! I couldn’t believe it. The cheese looked just like it did when I put it in the dish! Quel dommage!
I pulled out my iPad.
“Why won’t goat cheese melt?” I demanded of Google.
Seconds later I discovered a culinary truth, that I had missed all these years. Fresh goat cheese and ricotta will never melt, because they’re cured with acid rather than rennet. When the acid-cured cheeses are heated, the protein tightens, forcing out the water. There’s not enough moisture left to allow the cheese to melt.
Despite my failure to know the fine points of goat cheese melting, the gratin was great. But next time, I’ll use a soft goat cheese like Montrochet, that’s more inclined to soften.
Roasted Eggplant-Tomato Gratin
- 3 small (1¼ pounds) eggplants, stems removed, flesh sliced in ¼-inch rounds
- 4 medium (1 pound) tomatoes, sliced in ¼-inch rounds
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 1 tsp. thyme leaves, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ¼ cup, plus 2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
- ⅓ cup Panko bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 400º. In a large bowl, toss together eggplant rounds, tomatoes, lemon zest, thyme, garlic, and ¼ cup of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. In a 9-inch gratin dish, arrange the vegetables while tucking small crumbles of goat cheese underneath each vegetable. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the shingled vegetables and sprinkle the Panko on top. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Bake the gratin until it is tender and golden brown, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Serve hot and directly out of the baking dish.