Home cooking at its best, this delicious gratin is perfect for a mid-week supper, as it can be assembled ahead of time and then finished when needed. Don’t be intimidated by the separate steps of frying the eggplant rounds and making the béchamel; it all comes together quickly. To make it easier and save time and effort, I skip the usual third step by using a good-quality store-bought marinara sauce, but you can certainly use your homemade version.
Making béchamel, one of the basic sauces in European cuisine, feels like magic: A bit of butter, some milk, and a tablespoon or two of flour transforms into a rich, smooth, and incredibly useful sauce, perfect for elevating any dish to gourmet status.
Serve this elegant gratin with a green salad for an all-vegetarian meal, or as part of a buffet.
- 3 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
- 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil, for frying
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 cups milk
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the eggplants into 1/2-inch rounds and place them in a bowl of salted water.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. Place 1 cup flour on a dinner plate and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
In a large (13-inch) frying pan over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 cup olive oil.
Working in batches, dry the eggplant slices, dip them in the beaten egg, and cover them with the seasoned flour on both sides, shaking off the excess. Fry the eggplants until golden brown on both sides. (They don’t have to be soft inside, as they will finish cooking in the oven.) Set aside. Add more oil as needed to finish cooking all the eggplant slices.
To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk until the flour is dissolved. Slowly add the milk and continue whisking until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside.
To assemble the gratin, in an 8 x 11 ovenproof dish, pour half of the tomato sauce on the bottom and arrange half of the eggplant slices on top, overlapping as needed. Top with half the mozzarella cheese, and then half of the béchamel sauce. Repeat with the rest of the tomato sauce, eggplant slices, mozzarella, and lastly, béchamel. Finish with the parmesan cheese. (At this point, you can cover the gratin and refrigerate until needed. To bake straight from the fridge, add 15 minutes or so to the baking time.)
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbling. Then broil for a minute or so to brown the top. Rest for 5 minutes and serve hot.