I am behind with my writing. I’m a little embarrassed, but there are foods that my readers need to know about, and this is one of them: eggplant, chickpea, and tomato casserole. This dish is so much better than it sounds. It sounds like a boring, watery, vegan, gluten-free dish, which will leave you digging in your pantry for cookies immediately after dinner. It is indeed gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian, but it is satisfying and surprisingly rich, without weighing you down.
This baked casserole consists of lush tomato sauce, punctuated with chickpeas, like little crunchy golden nuggets. This mixture is layered with roasted eggplant, and it all bakes together. I took it upon myself to garnish it with feta cheese, which definitely bumped up the satisfaction factor, but this could easily be a tasty vegan, gluten-free dish if that’s what you are into. I found this recipe on the New York Times Cooking site (which is wonderful).
Something about it spoke to me, and I ended up making it on Super Bowl Sunday. There was a moment when my choice seemed like a dire mistake. While my veggie-heavy dinner percolated in the oven, my mother called to divulge her Super Bowl Feast: oven-fried chicken with peanut butter cake for dessert. I felt immediate dinner envy; I didn’t want my tomato-eggplant situation anymore, but it was all that I had. Despite my disdain for the dish, I was pleasantly surprised, which was a hard state to achieve given how envious I was of my mom’s peanut butter cake. This casserole was surprisingly tasty, with the richness of the tomato sauce, chickpeas giving it a little bulk, and creaminess from the eggplant. Of course, my heavy-handed feta cheese application didn’t hurt either. I highly recommend using San Marzano tomatoes if possible; they will elevate the flavor of your dish. A note about the olive oil: I used all three tablespoons as specified by the recipe (2 tablespoons in the sauce, and 1 tablespoon coating the eggplant); you could cut down to one tablespoon in the sauce, but I think the richness of the olive oil is a key factor to what makes this dish stick to your ribs. Besides, olive oil is good for you. This casserole also made a great leftover, so depending on how many people you are cooking for, you may want to double the recipe.
Eggplant, Chickpea, and Tomato Casserole (slightly adapted from New York Times Cooking)
Makes 4 servings
- 1 large eggplant or 2 medium (1 pound), peeled if desired, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced about 1/2 inch thick
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly across the grain
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Pinch of sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 sprig basil
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
- Crumbled feta cheese (or parmesan or pecorino) for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and brush the foil with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the foil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and brush each slice lightly with oil. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and carefully fold the foil in half over the eggplant. Crimp the edges together, so that the eggplant is sealed inside the foil and will continue to steam and soften. Leave for at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about five minutes, and add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute. Add the wine, if using, and allow liquid to reduce by at least half.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, cinnamon, basil, bay leaf, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered, stirring often, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce is thick and fragrant. Add freshly ground pepper, then taste and adjust salt. Remove the basil sprig, and stir in the drained chickpeas.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin. Cover the bottom with thin layer of tomato sauce, and make a layer of half the eggplant. Spoon half the remaining sauce over the eggplant, and repeat the layers.
- Bake 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle on desired garnishes.
March 3, 2015