This Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin is bursting with fabulous Italian flavor. A delicious, make-ahead, dinner party worthy meal!
The idea for this Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin has been rolling around in my head since mid-July when Scott’s garden began to prolifically produce beautiful, shiny purple eggplants. Each time he’d come in from the garden and his basket of goodies would include eggplant, I’d say, “Tonight I’m going to make you an eggplant gratin”. I had good intentions, but one thing or another seemed to always come in the way.
We finally had a quiet evening at home about two weeks ago and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to try out my inspiration, which had been evolving over the summer. I got busy and started putting my ideas into action. About an hour and a half later, I brought Scott a bowl of the Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin. He took one bite, looked at me and said, “This might just be the most delicious thing you’ve ever made!”
I made it a number of times since for both family and friends. Everyone’s loved it. It’s perfect for dinner parties, as it can be made hours or even a day in advance and just popped in the oven for the final baking just before dinner. It’s also a great dish to take to a friend or family in need; delicious comfort food that can be delivered and then baked whenever it’s convenient for their schedule. I actually took a pan of it to a friend last week and got this text a few hours later:
Chris, our dinner was AWESOME! We both moaned throughout the entire meal. I’m not kidding!!
I love having treasures like this Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin in my recipe arsenal!
Although this dish might be a bit of a splurge for the diet-conscious, it doesn’t need pasta to be enjoyed, which saves in the calorie department. Also, the recipe calls for just twelve ounces of Italian sausage which is drained of extra fat after cooking. The sausage gives tons of fabulous flavor without adding a lot of fat.
And for another healthy alternative, I decided to roast my eggplant in the oven in lieu of frying it as many eggplant recipes call for. The thick slices of eggplant are brushed lightly with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and into the oven they go. Thirty minutes later they’re tender, and ready to be combined with the fragrant tomato sauce.
There’s one delicious splurge that takes this Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin over the top (literally!). While the eggplant is roasting and the tomato sauce simmers, you’ll make the topping sauce. It’s a simple combination of reduced heavy cream and a generous handful of both Parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheeses. The cheeses melt into the thickened cream creating a silky and incredibly flavorful gratin topping.
Once the eggplant is roasted and the sauces are ready, it’s easy to put the whole thing together. Just layer the eggplant and tomato sauce in a gratin or casserole dish. Top with the luscious cheese sauce and pop the whole thing in the oven till it’s bubbly and golden. Serve in shallow bowls with some crusty bread (to mop up the fabulous sauce!) and a simple green salad.
It will be a meal to remember!
Buying and cooking eggplant
- When purchasing eggplants, look for ones with smooth, shiny, taut skin that are uniform in color and heavy for their size. Small and medium-size eggplants tend to be less bitter and their skin is thin and tender. Pass by the ones that have bruising and tan patches.
- Eggplants will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.
- Eggplant is also called aubergine and is part of the nightshade family. Potatoes and tomatoes also belong to this grouping of vegetables. There have been some claims that raw eggplant is poisonous. Raw eggplant does contain the toxin, solanine. It’s generally not harmful when eaten in reasonable amounts, although some people can be sensitive to it and experience gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Eggplant is high in fiber and a good source of vitamin B1, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate and vitamin K.
- When cooking eggplant, it has a tendency to absorb a lot of fat. That’s why in the instructions, I write to “brush tops of eggplant slices lightly and quickly with olive oil.” If you linger, while brushing the slices will “suck in” as much oil as they can. It’s pretty crazy!
Café Tips for making this Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin
- The perfect pan to cook and present this dish is an au gratin pan. Au gratin pans can be round, oval or rectangular and are usually about an inch and a half to two inches deep. They come in enamel cast iron, stainless steel, copper, ceramic or glass. There are lots of options. If you don’t have an au gratin pan, no problem, you can make this dish in a cast iron or stainless steel oven-safe skillet or a casserole dish. Just make sure it’s not too deep.
- The recipe calls for fire-roasted tomatoes. These can be found at most larger grocery stores with the other canned tomatoes. They have a wonderful flavor and a deep red color. If you can’t find fire-roasted tomatoes, regular diced canned tomatoes will be fine.
- Leftovers are delicious. They can be warmed up in the oven or in the microwave. The flavors almost get better, if that’s possible!
- I love to serve these Artisan Dinner Rolls or this Ridiculously Easy Focaccia Bread with our eggplant gratin. The rolls can be made ahead and frozen. Take them out of the freezer a few hours before dinner and warm in the oven for 5-10 minutes. They’re perfect to sop up the wonderful sauce, no butter needed!
This Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin is bursting with delicious, universally beloved Italian flavor. It's a dinner party worthy meal that can be made in advance and just popped in the oven at the last minute!
- 2 medium eggplant sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 ounces Italian sausage removed from casings
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 3 cloves garlic finely minced
- 3 14 1/2- ounce can fire-roasted canned tomatoes
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 ounces grated parmesan cheese
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line two sheet pans with foil for easy cleanup. Brush foil generously with extra virgin olive oil. Arrange eggplant slices in even layers on prepared pans. Brush tops of eggplant slices lightly and quickly with olive oil. Work quickly as eggplant likes to absorb lots of oil. You just want to lightly coat the surface. Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate pans and bake another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside
While eggplant is roasting, make the meat sauce and parmesan sauce. For the meat sauce, heat a medium-large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add Italian sausage and cook until lightly browned. Break the sausage up with a metal spatula and stir occasionally, as it cooks.
Drain excess grease and reduce heat to low. Add Italian seasoning and garlic and cook, stirring continually for 2 more minutes to soften the garlic and let the spices bloom.
Add fire-roasted tomatoes to the pot and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Add fresh basil and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
For the parmesan sauce, pour 1 cup heavy cream into a medium-size saucepan. Heat over medium heat until simmering. Reduce heat and continue to cook, maintaining a medium-low simmer, until reduced approximately in half. This will take about 10 minutes. Add Parmesan and mozzarella. Stir over low heat, until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Cover and set aside.
To assemble gratin, lightly grease a low enameled cast iron pan, gratin pan or low casserole. Arrange half of the eggplant in the pan. Spoon about 1/2 of the meat sauce over the eggplant and then repeat layers.
Stir the Parmesan sauce well and pour over the top of the eggplant and sauce. You can leave some of the eggplant mixture showing, if desired.
Reduce temperature to 350˚F and bake gratin until bubbly and beginning to turn golden in spots, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread.
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