The components for this dish (sauce, eggplants and peppers) can be prepared in advance, making it easy to assemble, or assemble the entire dish a day before baking (keep it refrigerated but bring to room temperature before baking).
Olive oil 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 400g (14 oz) can Italian crushed tomatoes ½ tsp salt Pinch of raw sugar to sweeten, optional Freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 medium-large eggplants (aubergines) Sea salt 2 large red peppers (capsicums/bell peppers) ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko crumbs (I used coarse sour dough crumbs) 125g (about 4 oz) ball fresh mozzarella ½ cup basil leaves
1 Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan with the garlic. Cook gently until garlic just turns golden. Add tomatoes, salt, sugar if using and black pepper. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and cook for about 30 minutes, until pulpy; stir often.
2 Cut eggplants lengthways into long thin slices. Lightly brush slices on both sides with a little olive oil and cook on a preheated barbecue hot plate (griddle), or in a ridged grill pan, until tender and golden on both sides. Transfer to a plate as they are done and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat with remaining slices.
3 Cook peppers directly over a gas flame until blackened, turning with tongs (put them right in the flames). Alternatively, cook them in the flames of a barbecue, or on the rack in an oven preheated to 220°C (425°F), turning them as they blacken (they’ll take around 20 minutes). When all the outer skin is charred, transfer to a plate, drape with paper towels and leave until cool. Peel off blackened skins, rinsing fingers, but not the peppers or you’ll wash off gorgeous flavour. Cut peppers in half, remove cores and seeds and cut flesh into strips, then cut strips in half.
4 Put a layer of eggplant in a shallowish ovenproof dish (approx. 2 litre/8 cup). Scatter over some red pepper and put on a few blobs of sauce (use about half the sauce in layering, reserving half for the top of the dish), a scattering of parmesan (likewise with the parmesan, use half in layering, and save half for the top), a smattering of crumbs and a few basil leaves, a few pinches of salt and a little grind of pepper, and a portion of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers until everything is used up, finishing with a good covering of sauce. Scatter with remaining parmesan.
5 Have the oven preheated to 200°C (400°F). Bake gratin for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden on top.
This is a stunning dish. It can be served hot, while the mozzarella is melting and stretchy, or at room temperature (the cheese will still be supple but not stretchy); leftovers, should there be any, reheat well in a microwave; it makes a fabulous centerpiece for a vegetarian meal; and, finally, it tastes delicious.