Aubergine and Tomato Gratin

Recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Serve this hearty bake with a green salad on the side, or precede it with a delicious raw dish, such as fennel, melon and basil.
Taken from River Cottage Much More Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £26), out now. 
Photography by Simon Wheeler

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4

2 fairly large aubergines (about 700g in total), trimmed

4 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra to finish

A small bunch of basil (25g), leaves picked from the stems and roughly torn

4–5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked from the stems

About 30g flaked almonds

Sea salt and black pepper

FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE

2 x 400g tins tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, sliced

75g cashew nuts

1 tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves

A pinch of sugar

METHOD

To make the sauce (which you can do ahead), put the tomatoes into a medium saucepan. If you’re using whole plum tomatoes, crush them in your hands as you add them, removing any stalky end bits.

Add the garlic, cashews, oil, bay leaves and a little salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. 

Remove the bay leaves. Add the sugar and blitz to a purée, using a stick blender or a jug blender.

Stir in about 50ml water to thin the purée to the texture of lightly whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (If making ahead, cool then refrigerate; reheat gently before using.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4.

Cut the aubergines lengthways into 5mm thick slices. Heat up a griddle pan (or a barbecue) or preheat your grill. Measure 4 tbsp olive oil into a small bowl and use to brush the aubergine slices on both sides. Griddle or grill the aubergine slices, in batches if necessary, for 2–3 minutes each side, until tender and marked with brown patches or grill stripes, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. 

Layer one third of the aubergine slices over the base of an oven dish (about 2 litre capacity).

Scatter over one third of the basil and thyme leaves.

Dollop one-third of the tomato sauce over the top and carefully spread it out over the aubergines. Repeat until you have used up all the aubergines, herbs and sauce.

Scatter over the flaked almonds and add a final trickle of oil.

Bake in the oven for 30–35 minutes, until bubbling and lightly coloured on top. Let it stand for 10–15 minutes before serving. 

Swaps

Veg: Use grilled slices of courgette or roasted slices of squash in place of the aubergine.