There’s just something about the summer that cries out for colourful, fresh vegetables. This may sound odd coming from a connesieur of porcine innards and rib-eye steaks. But there’s a time and place for everything and I try to vegetarian my meals up at least three or four times a week.
This time, and building on last week’s moussaka and baked eggs (ok, so they had ham so weren’t strictly veggie), I’m back to the oven again with this lasagne inspired layering of aubergine, courgettes and loadsa cheese. Hey, I didn’t say it was healthy did I?
At its heart it’s pretty simple, grilled aubergine, tomato sauce, a topping of courgette, mozzarella, Parmesan and pine nuts. But the beauty of something like this is you can pimp it up with whatever you have to hand.
Fresh from the oven
So I took some left over roast tomatoes that had been languishing at the back of the fridge, a lonely cube of feta, a sprig or two of thyme and some smoked paprika to add to the sauce. Chuck in a couple of elderly chillies and suddenly everything tasted pretty damn good. All heat and zing, herby aromas and smokey after-taste. The key as always was to ensure there wasn’t too much of any one flavour.
The end result is a really rather attractive little number with a pale green layered ribbons of courgette, a deep red sauce underneath and browned and melted cheese with toasty nuts scattered on top. Tastes pretty good too.
All layered up and ready to cook
Courgette and aubergine bake
Serves four, but can be scaled up providing you have a dish and oven big enough
This is one of those very rare occasions that I would encourage you not to get the finest quality mozzarella you can find. First of all, I’d always want to eat that uncooked, it’s so decadently good. Secondly, it just doesn’t grate particularly well.
For this dish its main purpose is to provide a stretchy, melty texture while the parmesan and feta beef up the taste. So a good quality supermarket mozzarella is probably the way forward.
The tomato sauce
1 onion – chopped
1 carrot – peeled and diced
1 stick of celery – diced
2 red peppers – finely sliced
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic – finely sliced
2 birds eye chillies – deseeded and finely chopped
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp caster sugar
1 splash red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
1 courgette – sliced lengthways into very thin ribbons
1 aubergine – sliced lengthways into 1cm slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Approx 50g Parmesan – finely grated
1 ball of mozzarella – grated
30g feta – crumbled (optional)
Zest of one lemon
First make the sauce. Fry the onions, carrots, celery and red pepper in the oil over a medium heat until they are translucent, but not too brown. Add the chilli and garlic and fry for a minute or two.
Add the vinegar and leave to bubble for about 30 seconds, then chuck in the tomatoes (I also added some left over roast tomatoes for extra flavour), sugar, paprika and herbs. Stir everything together and simmer for about 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
While the tomato sauce is simmering brush the aubergine slices with oil, heat up a heavy bottomed pan and fry them until they are brown on both sides. Drain on some kitchen roll.
Heat the oven to 180oC. Put a layer of aubergine in the bottom of an oven proof dish, spoon over about half the tomato sauce, scatter over half the cheese. Now add another layer of aubergine, the rest of the tomato sauce and carefully top with overlapping ribbons of courgette.
Scatter the rest of the cheese, the lemon zest, the pine nuts and a grinding of black pepper. Slide it into the oven and cook for about 30-45 minutes. When the cheese is browning and the sauce is bubbling round the edges it’s ready to serve.
Browning the aubergine