As summer gives way to fall, nightshade-family plants linger at farmers’ markets, where stands still teem with plump, glossy tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. That last is the only one with roots in the Old World; eggplant is native to India and found throughout Asia in countless varieties. The slender, thin-skinned Japanese eggplant has few and tiny seeds, rendering it less bitter than most and well suited for this recipe from Benoit’s Philippe Bertineau. He layers thin slices with zucchini and tomato in his version of bayaldi, a Provençal dish with a name that references Turkey’s classic stuffed eggplant but that most closely resembles a structured, oven-baked ratatouille.
Philippe Bertineau’s Provençal Bayaldi
1 head of garlic, crushed
1 large Italian eggplant
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 plum tomatoes, or enough to yield 32 slices
2 medium green zucchini, or enough to yield 32 slices
2 Japanese eggplants, or enough to yield 32 slices
1 tbs. parsley, chopped
1/2 red onion, minced
1 tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tbs. thyme, picked
Fleur de sel
Preheat the oven to 350. Scatter crushed garlic cloves on a baking tray. (1) Cut the Italian eggplant in half lengthwise, and score the flesh. Season generously with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and place cut side down on the tray. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggplant feels tender; turn over, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until very soft. With the tip of a knife, check that it’s cooked through. Remove from oven, discard garlic, and set aside for 20 minutes. Scoop out the flesh. Roughly chop, place in a colander, then let drain for an hour. Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 300. (2) Cut tomatoes, zucchini, and Japanese eggplants into slices 1/4 inch thick. To make eggplant “caviar,” combine the drained Italian eggplant in a bowl with parsley, red onion, and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of the eggplant caviar in the bottom of a 9-by-9 glass or ceramic baking pan, then (3) alternate upright slices of tomato, zucchini, and Japanese eggplant until the pan is full. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with thyme, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake for about 45 minutes, until fairly soft, then remove the cover and cook for another 45 minutes or so, until vegetables are cooked through and very soft. Add a pinch of fleur de sel, drizzle with olive oil, and serve immediately. Serves 4.