I prepared this recipe the week before our departure to the “nano-kitchen,” (which I’m still adapting to), but using only the appliances I took with us, as a warm up for the “adventure.” I’d also like to say that this is a simple and straightforward recipe. In some ways it’s not, but in other ways it is: it takes time and effort in the prep work, but once that’s completed it’s painless. After tasting it, I predict that you won’t mind the road you traveled to make it. I suggest that you assemble it on a weekend afternoon with nice music playing, perhaps this excellent CD from Yo Yo Ma (skip the Metallica, or you may lose some fingertips). I made individual servings with 3″ ring molds that I originally bought for cakes, but never used for that purpose.
(adapted from Michael Bauer’s Secrets of Success)
for the tomato sauce:
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 lb tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves
5 basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste
for the veggies
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound zucchini, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound kabocha (or other squash), peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound celery root, peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 bunch basil + 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 pound soft goat cheese (Montrachet type)
salt and pepper
Make the tomato sauce by sauteeing the garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds, adding the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes and reserve.
Heat a non-stick skillet (or preferably a large electric griddle), sprinkle each slice of vegetables with a little salt and pepper, and add to the hot surface of your non-stick pan (or griddle) for a couple of minutes on each side, until it just starts to show some color. Do not let it burn, or completely cook. Reserve the slices.
Mix the olive oil with the basil (you can use a food processor or finely slice the basil to help releasing its flavor.
Assemble the dish: coat a 8 x 8 inch baking dish slightly with olive oil to prevent the veggies from sticking. Layer the eggplant slices, zucchini, squash, and celery root. Add a little basil oil as you form each layer. Continue layering the veggies until they are all used up. Spoon some tomato sauce over the top, crumble the goat cheese and bake in a 450F oven for 10-15 minutes until the veggies are hot and the cheese shows some golden brown spots.
(If making the dish in individual rings, coat them slightly with olive oil to help removing the rings before serving – bake on a baking sheet, and use a flat spatula to remove each ring to the serving plate).
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Comments: Michael Bauer states that the secret of this dish is to thin-slice the vegetables, and he’s absolutely right. By doing so, the different layers bake into a single entity in which each flavor mingles with that of its neighbors. It’s a feast for the taste buds. I advise you to avoid excess tomato sauce, because this is not about the tomatoes, which just give it some extra moisture and flavor. This recipe lets the veggies do the talking. I couldn’t find celery root, so instead I used butternut squash, for its texture and color. “Dry sauteéing” is an interesting, low-fat technique. You’ll still need some oil while layering the dish, but it will finish lighter than similar versions that rely on “regular” sauteéing. Eggplant, in particular, absorbs oil and I usually avoid frying it, so this preparation suits my style. Play with different vegetables, as it’s fun to change this basic recipe. It’s perfect for entertaining: assemble it ahead of time, and bake it just before serving.
ONE YEAR AGO: A peachy salad for a sunny day!