At the weekend it was my granny’s 80th birthday party. Twenty of our family ate together in the garden under a gloriously hot sun. My aunt and uncle are both chefs and have a wonderful restaurant in Blakeney, Norfolk (The Moorings). The relaxed classicism and local ingredients used in their cooking always makes for an excellent supper. For the 80th party they had brought two large cooked sea trout arranged with thin slices of cucumber covering the flesh, pink beef, an exemplary and zesty lemon tart, and a blooming Victoria sponge with fresh cream and strawberries (my cousin Charlotte made that). Another aunt, Victoria brought heaps of rich, sweet crab from Salcombe in Devon, and to that my mum and I made a lot of salads, assisted ably by more family.
As a result on Monday night we didn’t want much in the way of meat or fish and I made this, about which my father was not hesitant in his rapturous delight. The soft, smokey vegetables, the rich, sweet tomato sauce, milky béchamel and salty hits of feta were good together.
It might seem that there are a lot of things to do to make this, but it’s really quite simple and did not take me long.
1 large aubergine (or 2 smaller ones), sliced into 1cm roudns
3 red peppers
a few plum tomatoes, quartered (optional)
1 bulb of garlic
3 tablespoons of crumbled feta
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)
1 tin tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 mild red chilli
1 red onion finely sliced
small bunch oregano
handful of basil leaves, torn
1/3 glass red wine
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon, sugar
1 pint of whole milk
2 level tablespoons plain flour
salt and pepper and nutmeg
How to make:
Pre-heat the oven to a high setting.
Lightly coat the whole red peppers, aubergine slices and tomato quarters with olive oil and some salt. Lay out in roasting dishes with the bulb of garlic cut in half across the bulb, and roast until the aubergines and tomatoes are soft, and the peppers are blistering. They will have slightly different cooking times, but overall should take around 30 minutes When each is done then remove from the oven and set aside. When the peppers are not too hot, peel them and remove the seeds over a bowl, reserving the juices in the middle. Cut them into thick strips.
For the tomato sauce
Meanwhile – in a deep, heavy bottomed frying pan soften the red onion and chilli in a few tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt. Add the tinned tomatoes and a tin’s worth of water and the tomato paste, and oregano then stir and cook for 10 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar and sugar and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Add the reserved juice from roasting the peppers and several of the roasted garlic cloves, mushed up. Season well with salt and black pepper.
For the béchamel
Just before you are ready to assemble the dish, melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for a minute then gradually pour in the milk while whisking, with the bay leaf. Cook while stirring and then season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stop cooking when it has the consistency of thick, runny double cream.
Layer up the vegetables with tomato sauce in between in a medium sized oven dish. Dot in a few of the spare roasted garlic cloves. Pour over the béchamel, and top with the feta cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes in a medium oven until the top is golden.
Salad and red wine.