Lately we’ve had meals at friends’ houses with great food and heartwarming touches. One friend left the front door just a little bit ajar, so when we arrived light shone into our dark night, along with smells of dinner cooking. That friend also walked to our car when we went home – a sweet, companionable gesture.
Another night my clever friend and her husband greeted us with a champagne toast around the island in their newly remodeled kitchen, full of color from ceramics, cornflower blue floor and apricot yellow walls. A huge bookcase of cookbooks and a table in a south-facing nook (the table’s base the treadle of an old sewing machine) add charm and character. We ate at a sparkling table, aglow with a wide circle of candles, and seasonal turkeys of ceramic and glass.
My friend made “White Bean and Eggplant Gratin” from Deborah Madison’s first book, “The Greens Cookbook.” Into shallow bowls, we served ourselves the gratin – straight from the oven, crusty hot and bubbling. With a crisp green salad and bread, it tasted delicious and perfect.
Inspired, I’m making it soon! To start Deborah says to soak three-quarters of a cup of navy beans for at least six hours (or cover with boiling water and soak for one hour). Drain the beans and bring them to boil with four cups of water, a teaspoon of fresh sage leaves chopped (or half teaspoon dried), two bay leaves, two peeled but whole garlic cloves, and one tablespoon of olive oil. After simmering for half an hour, add half teaspoon of salt, cook till tender, drain the liquid, and set aside.
Warm another teaspoon of sage and half teaspoon of dried thyme in four tablespoons of olive oil. Add two large yellow onions, sliced a quarter inch thick and cook slowly till soft.
When the onions are soft, add a globe eggplant cut into quarter inch cubes (Deborah doesn’t say whether to peel or not; Bittman says he never does). Stir well to combine, then cover. Cook over medium heat, and after 10 minutes, add a large can of Italian plum tomatoes (seed and chop the tomatoes and strain the juice to remove seeds). Cook until the eggplant is tender.
Combine the vegetables and the cooked beans in a bowl, season with pepper and more thyme and sage if you like. Deborah says aim for a “well-seasoned” mixture.
Bake the gratin in a lightly oiled gratin dish (the liquid should come half way up the sides – use more broth from the beans if needed).
Mix a cup of breadcrumbs with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread on the top of the gratin. It takes about 30 minutes to bake.
White beans and eggplant make a welcoming, flavorful and fragrant fall meal – worthy of a toast!