A zesty courgette, aubergine, cheese and pine nut bake

Courgette and aubergine bake on the plate

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.

Cutting into the courgette and aubergine bake
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.

Courgette and aubergine bake ready for the oven
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

The bake
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
Pine nuts
Black pepper

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 aubergine
Browning the aubergine

8 Responses to “A zesty courgette, aubergine, cheese and pine nut bake”

  1. Susan

    This makes me feel very happily nostalgic for my childhood summers in upstate NY, where my dad had a vegetable garden and where we would essentially subsist on courgettes because there was *always* a bumper crop. We used to prepare them very similarly. Mmmm cheesy goodness!

  2. Lizzie

    Whenever I try and make vegetable bakes like this I never reduce the tomato sauce enough and I end up with a watery, soggy mess. This looks lovely!

  3. The Grubworm

    @Susan – what is it about courgettes, they are unusually fecund. When we had Abel & Cole boxes we got them every week. I have become adept at using them in a multitude of ways. I also love them fried with mint and lemon…

    @Lizzie – I find forgetting about it for 20 minutes helps… You end up with a thick sauce and some lovely – uh – caramelised bits ;) This one turned out better than i thought, better than the moussaka.

  4. Vicky @ Ursine Cuisine

    Very pretty! Love the pine nuts on top – I find that a bake really benefits from a bit of crunch.

    Totally with on you the need for more summery food!

  5. Tom

    I actually think we can get all those ingredients in Korea which is pretty damn awesome. I think I will pump up the a/c, get a bottle of red and ask Jen very nicely to make this for me :)

  6. Tia Dennis

    Regardless what the season is I always say the more colourful my food is the better. I am absolutely fond of courgettes and aubergines as they are excellent sources of vitamins. I know the courgette is rich in Vitamin C and that the aubergine is brain food. But the best part is this recipe just looks absolutely scrummy. Bookmarking this.

  7. shuhan

    Looks absolutely yummyto me, and just screams of sunshine what with all the delicious summer vegetables. A nice distraction from the shitty rainy London weather for sure! Oh, and love all your pimping, the pine nuts especially!

  8. The Grubworm

    @Viky – yeah, sometimes you need to create your own summer feeling! Also, i’m a big fan of nuts for texture, could be pine nuts, roasted and crushed peanuts or slivered hazlenuts, all are good.

    @Tom – i hope it went well!

    @Tia – there is definitely something to the idea (eye-dea?) of eating with your eyes. Bright colours just make a dish taste a bit more alive somehow.

    @shuhan – it’s screaming, i’m screaming.. when will the sun arrive! I’m all for pimping up my dishes!

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