One of the best meals I had in Paris was at Le Café des Musées in the Marais.
I had been there the year before with my daughter and, sitting at the wide-open, full-length windows, we’d spotted about four or five beagles walking by with their owners. I had to go back to see if my luck would hold.
Hélas, no beagles, but I had a lovely dinner sitting at the “garconniere,” the table for singletons. Henry had left a couple days earlier, so I was on my own. I started with a glass of Champagne, of course, then had a great green bean salad. For my main course I ordered the gratin d’aubergines avec agneau.
It was a gratin of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes with nuggets of succulent lamb mixed in. Not too meaty. Just right. It was rich and tomato-y, accented with cardamom. I was craving it when I returned to Santa Monica.
A bounty of super-sweet, ready-to-rot tomatoes was awaiting me when I got back from my trip, so I used them to make a simple tomato sauce–sautéed onions, garlic, bouquet garni and basil–for my gratin. I didn’t have any eggplant in the garden (darn!) so we bought huge globe eggplants at the market. Gorgeous. Because my dear daughter kind of insists on flank steak on Sundays (plus I didn’t have any precooked lamb on hand), no meat would go into my vegetarian gratin.
As the tomato sauce was simmering, I tried a new technique (for me, anyway) for getting rid of the bitterness that sometimes mars the deliciousness of the eggplants. Instead of salting the slices then rinsing them, I boiled them for a couple of minutes in salted water. I think Julia Child recommended that and I think it worked.
Next, I dried them, fried them in olive oil, then layered them with the tomato sauce.
I topped it all with homemade breadcrumbs that I keep in the freezer. When it came out, it was golden brown and the tomato sauce was bubbling.
It was delicious, great as a side dish and will be great as a main course.
Note: I was hoping my dear husband, who is not a fan of the eggplant (or the tomato, for that matter), would come around with this fantastic dish. As it turns out, I will be enjoying leftovers on my own for some time to come. (I’ll pop some individual portions into the freezer.) His loss!