Back in 1997, I was daunted by a friend’s conversion to a vegetarian lifestyle, especially as she was a regular dinner guest. Luckily The Vegetarian Society had just published The New Vegetarian Cookbook by Heather Thomas, and it was so helpful. Sadly it now appears to be out of print, although I have noticed there are used copies available online. I definitely would not part with mine!
One of my favourite recipes in the book is the Provencal vegetable gratin. Provencal Vegetable Gratin lends itself very easily to adaptation; over the years I have streamlined the cooking method and adjusted the ingredients to suit my family. For example, both my husband and son struggle to eat cooked tomatoes, so I have reduced the amount used, and I’ve changed the herbs originally called for. I’ve dispensed with de-gorging the eggplant (aubergine), a step I feel is unnecessary and time consuming, and I also use a bit more cheese in the topping than was originally called for.
I tend to make this recipe differently depending on what I have on hand. Sometimes I add mushrooms to my Provencal Vegetable Gratin, sometimes I leave them out. The core ingredients for me are the onion, eggplant, the zucchini (courgette) and one or two tomatoes. As for the topping, you can use breadcrumbs as in the original recipe, or switch things up by using part potato chips (crisps) or my favourite, Ritz crackers. If you are a strict vegetarian, be sure the chips or crackers you use are made without using animal fats or by-products. For even more variety, change the cheese around. Although I use Bookhams Vegetarian Pasta Cheese most often, I also use grated Parmesan, cheddar, gruyere or Swiss cheeses. You can even use a sharp Pepper Jack cheese if you want to add a bit of spice. Again, strict vegetarians should be careful that the cheese they choose is not made using animal rennets.
This dish is a lovely main course served alongside some crusty bread and perhaps a salad, but it also makes a great side dish for both vegetarian and meat or fish dishes as well.
Provençal Vegetable Gratin
Adapted from The Vegetarian Society’s New Vegetarian Cookbook
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, cut in roughly one inch cubes
2 onions, thinly sliced (I like to use red onions when I can)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 garlic cloves
3 medium zucchini
2 to 3 medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping
½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs, crushed Ritz crackers or potato chips
(or a combination thereof)
¼ cup grated cheese of your choice
1 teaspoon dried parsley or chives
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Slice the zucchini and the tomatoes thinly and set aside.
Heat the 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the sliced eggplant, onions and mushrooms (if using) until nearly golden. Grate in the garlic and add the oregano, a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Cook for a minute or so more. Spread over the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Place a layer of zucchini on top of the hot vegetables, overlapping the slices a bit like fish scales. Follow with a thinner layer of tomatoes (or a thick one if your family likes hot tomatoes!), and finally with a layer of zucchini.
Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese and parsley or chives.
When the vegetable have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the cover and sprinkle the vegetables evenly with the topping mixture. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and golden.
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