Aubergine and Tomato Bake

I've always had an ambivalent relationship with aubergine (or eggplant as I knew it in Canada). What a singularly unromantic name for such a beautifully-coloured vegetable. Part of the problem is that so many recipes require the chef to slice, salt and press between dinner plates with kitchen towel to absorb the 'bitterness'. I've never had a bitter aubergine that I'm aware of, even the ones not salted and squashed.

About 30 odd years ago, a vegetarian friend of David's served us a wonderful tomato and eggplant casserole in which the eggplant was boiled and mashed with tomatoes, eggs, breadcrumbs etc. That dish became a stock favourite of ours for a long time. Then I rather fell off the aubergine circuit when mangetouts hit the scene.

However, I'm fond of them still, have revived my affection in fact, and Alex has been using them to great advantage recently in several recipes, so tonight I decided to take the plunge:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed (I never ever use more than one, and if we have to be in circulation the following day it really isn't fair on the general public!)
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
150g quinoa
1 tbsp tomato paste
large handful of basil, roughly chopped
2 medium sized aubergines, cut into medium sized chunks
50g parmesan, grated (I often use grated low-fat cheddar to reduce the fat content for the cholesterol-conscious! )

Preheat grill to medium. Heat half the oil and gently fry the onion for about 5 or 6 minutes. Add garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, quinoa, tomato paste, and 300ml just-boiled water. Simmer for 20 minutes until quinoa is tender. Stir through most of the basil and season.

While this mixture is simmering, heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan and fry aubergine on a low heat for about 15 minutes until softened. Add a little water to the pan when the oil is absorbed, as it will be and very quickly too!

Spread quinoa and tomato mixture on the bottom of a two litre casserole. Top with the aubergine and sprinkle the cheese on top. Grill for about 5 minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles and the dish is piping hot.

Garnish with a few basil leaves and serve at once. Crusty bread goes well with it and you will get 4 very good-sized servings from this recipe.

And two days later, the reheated leftovers are amazing.

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