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Jul 22, 2014
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WINE WITH…Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

We tend to take eggplant for granted. Unlike many other fresh summer vegetables such as fresh corn and local tomatoes, eggplant is pretty much available in supermarkets year round, and it is almost always pretty good. Eggplant is a sturdy vegetable, with a long shelf life, and it adapts well to a variety of preparations, from baba ganoush to ratatouille to moussaka. Curried eggplant is a standard, as are spicy Asian eggplant and eggplant parmigiana. When we recently prepared a couple of eggplants we’d bought at the farmers’ market that morning, we were reminded that very fresh eggplant is actually far superior to the well-travelled industrial specimens we depend on most of the year. Compact yet tender, these recently harvested vegetables had a uniquely delicate flavor that seemed designed specifically to be baked with tomatoes and cheese, and enjoyed with a glass or two of wine.

Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

Serves 4

½ cup olive oil (divided use)
2 medium eggplants
4 medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 log (about 5 ounces) fresh goat cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup dried breadcrumbs such as Panko

Preheat oven to 375°.

Spread about 2 tablespoons olive oil on the bottom of a 9x10 or 8x5 inch baking dish. Peel the eggplants and cut them in slices roughly ¼ to ½ inch thick. Slice the tomatoes about the same thickness. Mix together the thyme, oregano, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Place as many eggplant slices as will fit in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish, pressing them lightly into the olive oil. Turn the slices over and sprinkle about half the herb mixture over them. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cover the eggplant slices with about half the tomatoes. Dot with half the goat cheese and add salt and pepper. Add another layer of eggplant and the herb mixture. Sprinkle on salt and pepper and drizzle with more olive oil. Layer on the remaining tomatoes and goat cheese, adding salt, pepper and more olive oil. Cover the dish and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and return the dish to the oven to bake for another 20 minutes. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and add the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and return to oven. Bake another 10 minutes or so, or until the dish is nicely browned and bubbly.

* * *

We were unsure what sort of wine would work best with this gratin. Red? White? Bone dry? Slightly sweet? To our delight, we found that color makes little difference, as reds and whites paired equally well. But the wine does need to be pretty dry, as noticeable sugar will clash with the cheesy breadcrumb crust. And regardless of color, you’ll want whatever wine you choose to have a firm backbone of acidity. Otherwise the tomatoes, which are themselves quite acidic, will make it seem flaccid and unappealing.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Benito Ferrara, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) 2012

(Imported by de Grazia Imports)

$15

Tasting of summer stone fruit, with hints of citrus and an overt impression of minerality in the finish, this lively white wine has a nervy streak of acidity that keeps all its elements in harmonious balance.

Luiano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2011

(Imported by Opici Wines)

$18

Showing Chianti character at its best, with cherry fruit flavor enhanced by dusty undertones and zesty acidity, this wine seemed tailor-made to accompany this vegetarian dish.

Laurent Miquel, Pays d’Oc (France) Viognier “L’Artisan” 2012

(Imported by Miquel et Fils)

$13

Rich but never flabby, this wine had enough stuffing to hold its own with the flavorful gratin, while at the same time adding a lush, ripe element that seemed to enhance the cheese in the dish. It’s a great choice if your preferences run on the rich side of the white wine spectrum.

Vina Robles, Paso Robles (California) Albariño “Huerhuero” 2013)

$18

“Huerhuero” is the name of the vineyard where this family-run winery has planted Albariño. Perhaps because Paso Robles is much hotter and drier than Galicia, the variety’s homeland, the wine is richer in flavor and texture than its Spanish cousins. That richness, however, is what made it such a good partner for this particular dish.

Zuccardi, Valle de Uco (Mendoza, Argentina) “Brazos de los Andes” 2011(Imported by Winesellers Ltd.)

A blend of Malbec, Cabernet, Syrah, and Bonarda (in decreasing proportions), this full-bodied red tastes lush and satisfying. We were surprised that it wasn’t too heavy for the dish, but the gratin was so flavorful that the partnership worked extremely well.