Eggplant Gratin – Provençal Gratin d’Aubergine


Eggplant Gratin – Provençal Gratin d’Aubergine



Late summer brings both eggplant and tomatoes. That’s when in the south of France Eggplant Gratin – “Gratin d’Aubergine” -- was was most common in the old days. Now with produce available year round, the dish can be enjoyed anytime.


Southeastern French cuisine includes many wonderful vegetable gratins. There are seafood and meat gratins as well. “Gratin” indicates topping with grated cheese and/or breadcrumbs and baking in a shallow dish till crispy on top. Gratins of potatoes, cauliflower and other winter vegetables typically lack tomatoes but contain milk, often in a creamy béchamel sauce. Two gratins that I’ve had in France are different, eggplant gratin and “Tomates Provençale,” which is a sort of gratin but not called that. Both contain cheese and breadcrumbs plus tomatoes, but no milk. They both taste very fresh, and are somewhat lighter than some of the winter gratin dishes.


Eggplant gratin has some similarities with  Eggplant Parmesan, or “Melanzane alla Parmigiana,” a dish from southwestern Italy, down the Mediterranean coast from French Provence. But in the heavier Italian dish the eggplant slices are coated with egg and flour or breadcrumbs and pre-fried or pre-baked before assembling the dish. Plus considerable mozzarella cheese is used in addition to the namesake Parmesan cheese. And there are no breadcrumbs in the topping. For French eggplant gratin, which similarly uses Parmesan cheese, the eggplant is merely salted to remove its bitterness, and mozzarella is not usual.


In this recipe, I use the traditional Parmesan cheese (domestic is good enough for this baking), but in addition for a creamier cheese inside the dish I use Gruyère, or for a more economical dish grated Jarlsberg or “Swiss” cheese works satisfactorily. The dried herb mix “Herbes de Provence” is an important seasoning for this dish. It’s available at the spice and herb section at most supermarkets. A substitute would be a mixture of thyme, marjoram and oregano.


The recipe serves six as a luncheon or principal dish, or will serve more as a side dish. The gratin can be made ahead and re-heated before the meal.


This dish pairs nicely with lighter-bodied red wines (chilled about 20 minutes in the fridge before drinking to take off the summer warmth). A red Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, or Pinot Noir will work and be geographically appropriate.



2 medium eggplants (about 1-1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons salt for soaking the eggplant

3 tablespoons olive oil for the casserole dish

1/4 pound (about 3/4 cup) grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese (domestic)

1 (14-ounce) can crushed or “ground” tomatoes

1-1/2 teaspoons salt for the baking

2 teaspoons dry Herbes de Provence (or see notes above)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil leaves

1-1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (domestic wedge is OK)

5 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons olive oil for topping


Rinse off the eggplants. In a large bowl, combine two quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of salt. Cut stem tops off the eggplant and cut a thin piece off the bottom ends. With a vegetable peeler or sharp knife cut off three narrow strips of peel lengthwise equally separate from each other (so skin isn’t continuous when the eggplant is sliced). Slice the eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick circles. Soak these in the salted water, mixing them occasionally, at least 30 minutes.


Open the can of crushed/ground tomatoes and mix in the 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt plus the Herbes de Provence and chopped fresh basil. Set aside.


Set the oven for 350 degrees.


Using a shallow casserole dish from which the gratin will be served, pour in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and tip the dish to have the oil coat the bottom and part of the sides of the dish.


Drain the eggplant slices. Place half of them in the oiled casserole dish, slightly overlapping. Press them down lightly. Sprinkle evenly with half of the grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese. Then spoon half of the crushed/ground tomatoes (containing the seasonings) evenly over the top. Sprinkle with half the grated Parmesan. Then repeat these steps with the second half of the ingredients, finishing with the Parmesan.


Moisten the breadcrumbs with the olive oil. With your fingers crumble this evenly over the top of the casserole.


Bake in middle of oven until the juices are bubbling and the topping begins to brown, about 40-50 minutes.


Serve hot. Or the baked casserole can be cooled, refrigerated, and re-baked just long enough to heat through before serving.

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