Baked Mixed Vegetables with Mozzarella, Basil, and Parmesan

Misto di Verdure al Forno

When Victor and I were much younger, we thought nothing of having a liberal portion of a mixed vegetable dish such as this alongside some breaded veal cutlets, which would have been preceded by pasta or risotto. Who would have believed then that, some decades later, we would look forward to making a whole meal out of just vegetables? And a satisfying meal it can be in all respects. It is a cheery combination of colors, the potatoes supply ample bulk, and the chorus of flavors—sweet and fragrant, ripe and pungent—entertains the palate from the first bite to the last. The juices produced are so delicious that it would be a regrettable oversight not to provide some good crusty bread, possibly lightly grilled, to help sop them up.

When I have too many guests to serve sitting down, this is one of the dishes I am likely to put on the buffet table, and it is unfailingly one of the first to disappear.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound eggplant
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • Salt
  • cup grated mellow pecorino sheep’s milk cheese or equal parts Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ pound ripe, firm, fresh tomatoes
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • Chopped red chili pepper, ¼ teaspoon or to taste
  • 6 small basil leaves or 3 large ones, torn by hand into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs

An 11 by 7-inch oven-to-table baking dish or any rectangular dish of equivalent capacity

Method

  1. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  2. Slice away the eggplants’ green tops. Wash the eggplants and cut them lengthwise into slices ¼ inch thick or less.
  3. Set a pasta colander over a bowl or deep dish; line it inside with one layer of eggplant slices, placing them vertically; sprinkle lightly with salt; place another layer of eggplant over the first and sprinkle a tiny bit more salt over it; and proceed thus until you have used up all the slices. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to allow the eggplant to shed some of its astringent liquid.
  4. Peel the potatoes, wash in cold water, and slice very thin. Put them in a bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt; and toss several times to coat each slice well.
  5. Use a swiveling-blade vegetable peeler to peel the tomatoes. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon (do not squeeze them), and cut into ⅓-inch-wide strips.
  6. Peel the peppers by the same method used on the tomatoes, split them open, remove the white pith and all the seeds, and cut the peppers lengthwise into strips ½ inch wide.
  7. Combine the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl, adding salt, 6 tablespoons of grated cheese, chopped chili pepper, and the basil leaves. Toss several times to coat well.
  8. Evenly coat the bottom of the baking dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread half the sliced potatoes over the bottom of the dish.
  9. Distribute half the pepper and tomato combination over the potatoes and top with the sliced eggplant. Spread the remaining peppers and tomatoes over the eggplant, and top with the remaining sliced potatoes.
  10. Combine 2 tablespoons of grated cheese with an equal amount of bread crumbs and sprinkle the mixture over the potatoes. Over them drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil, distributing it evenly. Bake in the uppermost level of the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the top becomes colored a tawny gold. Allow to settle for 10 minutes before serving.

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