Aka Aubergine Genie, this was a side dish served at my vegan pop-up supper night, Spinning Plates at the lovely Manor Café in Brighton. The night was themed around music, hence the daft name. But enough about that. Let’s get back to the dish.
A traditional Aubergine Parmagiana is made with adding layers of parmesan and sometimes mozzarella in between aubergine and tomato. I’ve taken a bit of artistic licence here by replacing the cheeses with a creamy cheese-style sauce that you would usually find on a dish like cauliflower cheese, but I think it works well and is an ultimate comfort food dish that you can enjoy year-round. In the summer, it is a great addition to a buffet brimming with fresh salads and crusty bread, whilst in the winter, it would be really warming, especially if washed down with a glass of Malbec.
You can prep this dish a day ahead, then just keep it in the fridge til you need it – it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to prepare and about 35 minutes to heat in the oven, so you can just pop it in the oven when you need to. The breadcrumbs are best added just before it goes in the oven though, to avoid them sinking into the cheesy sauce. This recipe serves 1-2 as a main dish or 3-4 as a side.
Ingredients for the tomato sauce
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 x clove garlic, crushed
½ medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp dried basil
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for the aubergine
One aubergine (sliced into 1 inch thick pieces, then halved)
2-3tbsp vegetable oil
Ingredients for the cheese sauce
40g plain flour
40g vegan spread (I used Pure soya)
500ml unsweetened soy milk (Sojade is my favourite)
1 bay leaf (optional)
Half an onion (optional)
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp English mustard
Ingredients for topping
1tbsp dried herbs (basil, mixed herbs or other of your choice)
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tbsp garlic powder
1tbsp nutritional yeast
How to make it:
First, prepare the tomato sauce. Fry your onion in a pan with oil on a medium heat until it is translucent. Next, add your garlic and fry for 30 seconds, making sure it doesn’t burn. Then, add the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. Leave on a low simmer for an hour. Keep checking back on it – it will thicken up but if it gets too thick, add a little water. Too runny, add some tomato puree if you have some, or just leave to cook down.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, prepare your aubergine. Cut into pieces – I’ve suggested half moon shapes around 1 inch thick, but really up to you. Fry in the pan in plenty of oil – aubergine really does soak up a lot of liquid so you may need to add more oil as it cooks. The aim here is to soften them so that they are cooked through and not firm in the middle. (Although they will cook again in the oven, they will be too firm if you don’t cook them first.) You can’t really overcook aubergines though – they just get better and better (within reason). About 10 minutes should be plenty of time though.
Once cooked, put them to one side and if cooking to serve straight away, get your oven preheated to 180 (fan assisted).
Now you can start on the cheese sauce. Warm up the milk on a low-medium heat with a bay leaf. You can also add half an onion for extra flavour. Leave it to simmer for 5-10 minutes for the flavours to infuse. The, discard of the onion and bay leaf. (You can skip this step, but it does give it more flavour. Another option is to replace a quarter of the milk with vegetable stock.) Put your dairy-free spread in a pan on a low-medium heat and add the flour. Once combined, gradually add the milk (and stock if using). Keep stirring as you go to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer to allow the sauce to thicken. Taste test it to ensure it doesn’t have a floury taste – bring back up to the boil if you can still taste the flour. The sauce should take about 10 minutes. Once ready, remove from the heat and add the nutritional yeast, mustard and seasoning.
Next, you can start layering your dish. Get an oven-proof dish, add the aubergines, then the tomato sauce and stir it in so that the aubergines are coated. Pour the cheese sauce over the top. Don’t worry if there are gaps where the tomato starts to seep through – it’s a rustic dish!
Finally, mix your breadcrumb ingredients together and scatter it on top of the cheese sauce. Again, it doesn’t have to look neat – a few dabs here and there will do. It will give the dish a tasty, crunchy texture.
Now place it in the oven for 35 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden.