For the last few months while I have been on hiatus I have forced myself to do something completely shocking, something I never thought I could or would do. And that thing was teaching myself how to cook and eat on a (mostly) vegetarian and vegan diet. I get in real life that that is not nearly dramatic as I made it sound, but to put it in perspective I have had other bloggers describe my blog as “specialty in non-vegetarian food” when nominating me for awards, so I would say my recent dip into vegetable life is worth noting.
Anyway, about what it has been like ditching the meat. I honestly love it way more than I thought I would. I can say I am an honest fan of cauliflower now which is new. It has also really allowed me to be creative and experiment with flavors more than I ever have before. And that level of creativity has led me here, to this ratatouille-inspired gratin. Two French food concepts smacked together to create one comforting vegetarian delight.
As many of you know ratatouille is the provincial style stewed vegetable dish consisting of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, and tomato. In this dish I layered baked eggplant with a mushroom, onion, garlic, and tomato sauce. Note that the zucchini and peppers are missing but that mushrooms are present hence me calling the dish “ratatouille inspired” and not a true to form ratatouille. On top of layered eggplant and tomato sauce is a garlic bechamel, which is essentially the French term for white gravy, that was cooked until brown causing the gratin.
I will say that this is not the quickest cooking dish that I have ever come up with, so if you are trying to find something to whip up immediately than I have several recipes that are great for that, but that this is not one of them. I know that putting a good bit of time and effort can be scary, but the good news is that this meal is great to do most of the work on the night before you make it so that it is ready to just pop in the oven when you actually want to eat it. Also putting in a little extra effort is completely worth it when you get to pull this out of the oven.
Plus oh my God the smells on this one. For real. So without further ado here is the recipe for my bursting with veggie goodness but with some gooey decadence on top ratatouille-inspired gratin.
- 2 medium eggplants-sliced 3/4 inch thickness
- salt and pepper
- cooking spray
Before you even think of cooking your eggplant salt your slices and let them rest for 30 minutes to an hour. This will take out any excess moisture as well as the gunk that would normally make your eggplant taste really bitter. At the end of their rest period preheat your oven to 425 degrees. When the eggplant has rested long enough dry them off, put some salt and pepper on them, place them on a sprayed cookie sheet, and cook them for about 7 minutes per side. We are only par cooking them so do not expect them to look completely cooked and brown. When done set aside.
Mushroom Tomato Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion-chopped
- 10 oz crimini/baby bella mushrooms-sliced
- 6 cloves garlic-minced
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- salt, pepper, and sugar to taste
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and let them cook for about two minutes. Add some salt to help them sweat out. Once the onions have sweat for a couple of minutes add your mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms have released their liquids and shrunk up, about 5-7 more minutes. At this point you need to add your garlic and cook it for about two more minutes so that it can brown up. Once your garlic has cooked add the canned tomatoes, thyme, vegetable broth, and spices. Keep adjusting the salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Once you have it where you want it reduce to medium low heat and let the sauce cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should be a slightly thick sauce. Set aside.
Garlic Bechamel Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 garlic cloves-minced
- 2 1/2-3 cups whole milk
- salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
In a medium saucepan over medium heat warm the butter and olive oil. Once the butter has melted add the garlic and cook until browned and fragrant, about two to three minutes. The second you get that cooked garlic scent add the flour and start whisking. You want to make sure you whisk the flour until it is completely incorporated into the butter creating a roux, otherwise you will have weird lumps in your sauce. Once your roux has turned a golden brown color add 2 1/2 cups of your milk and stir. Hang onto the other half cup just in case your sauce accidentally thickens up a little too much. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 3 minutes allowing the sauce to thicken. If at any point your bechamel goes from sauce to gloop just add a little more milk to thin it back out. Once your sauce is a good consistency add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Just make sure to only add about a pinch of nutmeg because a little does go a very long way.
Assembly and Cooking:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish start by adding a layer of tomato sauce. On top of that add a layer of eggplant, then another layer of sauce followed by more eggplant. Depending on the size of the dish you use you will have either two or three eggplant layers. I used a very long dish so I had two layers. If you have a third then just repeat the sauce eggplant pattern one more time. Then pour all of the bechamel over the final tomato and eggplant layer and spread it making sure the whole dish is covered. Cook for 45 minutes or until the bechamel has browned. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes and go nuts. I would recommend serving with a crusty bread to dunk in any spare sauce in the pan along with a simple spinach salad.