Tomato, Artichoke and Eggplant Gratin with cheesy bechamel

This is a dish I created with a team of fellow students at the Culinary Institute of America, when I traveled to New York to attend a five-day cooking boot camp at the school.

You can read more about that, and how the dish came together, here.

I love the idea of making this dish for Thanksgiving, because it’s just different enough to stand out on the table. But slathered in a cheesy bechamel, it still delivers all the comforts of a holiday meal.

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Tomato, Artichoke and Eggplant Gratin With Bechamel

3 potatoes, preferably red or purple
1 large eggplant
Olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Pinch of nutmeg
4 ounces bacon or prosciutto, finely chopped
1 cup cipollini onions or 1 medium white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, small diced
½ cup canned or jarred artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
Salt
Pepper
¼ cup capers
Handful fresh basil, finely chopped
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, for serving

Slice potatoes into ¼-inch slices, then place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or olive oil. Slice eggplant just a bit thicker and place on another baking sheet the same way. Roast potatoes and eggplant in 400-degree oven at the same time for about 20 minutes, until they are starting to brown and have become softer but not too soft.

Remove from oven and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Sprinkle flour over melted butter, whisking to fully incorporate. Cook for 1 minute, stirring often. You should have a thick beige paste. This is called a roux. Slowly whisk in milk, then keep whisking for about 30 seconds. Bring mixture to a boil, stir, then add cheese and stir again until mixture is smooth. Add nutmeg, then remove from heat.

Start building your gratin in a baking dish, preferably a 9- by 13-inch dish, though you can get way with something slightly smaller or a different shape. Place a piece of eggplant in the dish, then a piece of potato, overlapping them just slightly until you have a whole row of vegetables the length of the dish. Repeat with the rest of the veggies, creating rows to fill the dish. Keep it to one layer though, so everything cooks evenly.

Pour bechamel evenly over the vegetables. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, until bechamel is bubbling and vegetables are fork tender.

Meanwhile, add bacon to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until bacon is cooked through. Small dice the onion, then add to skillet and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add artichoke, season with salt and pepper and cook for 7 to 10 minutes until veggies are soft. Turn off heat, stir in capers and basil and leave on burner to keep warm.

Remove gratin from oven, scatter tomato mixture on top and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 8.

Source: Michelle Stark, Times food editor