Eggplant Gratin

Almodrote de Berenjena

Almodrote, which appears in every Sephardic cookbook, dates back to early Spain. The word is of Arab origin, and in medieval Catalonia, almodroc referred to a dish with garlic, eggs, and cheese. Somewhere along the way the garlic disappeared, but the cheese and eggs remained. I found that the variables for this recipe have to do with the proportion of eggplant, cheese, and egg. Some recipes include bread as a thickener, while others contain no bread at all. If you want to return the garlic to the original concept, add a clove or two, well minced, to the mashed eggplant. Some chopped parsley or dill is a nice addition, too.

Ingredients

  • 4 globe eggplants, 1 pound each
  • 4 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 ounces fresh white cheese such as ¾ cup ricotta or cups not-too-salty crumbled feta
  • ½ pound kashkaval or gruyere cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
  • cup sunflower or olive oil
  • 1½ to 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

For a smoky taste, preheat the broiler and broil the eggplants, turning often, until they are very soft and have collapsed, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, cook them slowly on a stove-top cast-iron griddle, turning them often. You also can bake them in a 400 degrees F oven until they are soft throughout, about 45 minutes. Transfer the eggplants to a colander.

When cool enough to handle, strip away the skin and remove the large seed pockets. Place the pulp on a cutting board and chop coarsely. Return it to the colander and let drain for 10 to 20 minutes to release the bitter juices. You should have 2 to 2½ cups pulp.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 7-by-11-by-2-inch baking dish.

Transfer the eggplant to a bowl and mash well with a fork. Add the bread, eggs, ricotta or feta cheese, and all but ¼ cup of the kashkaval or Gruyére cheese, all but 2 tablespoons of the oil, the ½ teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust with more salt, if needed. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining ¼ cup grated cheese and drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over the top.

Bake until golden and set, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot directly from the dish.