Eggplant Gratin in Parmesan Custard

2lb Rosa Bianca or other oval eggplants
sea salt
2 eggs
1c heavy cream or milk
1c grated Parmesan cheese
4 T olive oil, plus more for the gratin dish or ramekins
1 lg onion, finely grated
1 lg clove garlic, minced or pressed
About 1 lb tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
Freshly ground pepper

Peel the eggplants and dice them into small cubes. Unless the eggplantes are very fresh, toss the cubes with 1 tsp salt, put them in a colander set over a bowl, and set aside while you ready the rest of the vegetables and make the custard.

To make the custard, whisk the eggs with the cream, all but a few tablespoons of the cheese, and the basil. Heat the oven to 375 F. Oil an 8x10 inch gratin dish or six 1-cup ramekins.

Blot the eggplant with a kitchen towel. Heat 2 T of the oil in a wide nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are soft and golden brown in spots, 12-15 min. Scrape the eggplant into a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 T oil to the pan and return it to medium heat. Add the onion and cook, again stirring occasionally, until it has softened and colored just a bit, about 5 min. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more, then add the tomateos and the cooked eggplant. Season with 1/2 t salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 min. Taste to make sure there is enough salt then transfer the eggplant mixture to the prepared gratin dish or ramekins.

Pour the custard over the eggplant and scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minuties for the gratin dish, closer to 20 for the ramekins. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. If using ramekins, serve them in their dishes on a plate, resting on a folded napkin.

With Saffron: Cover 2 pinches of saffron threads with 1 T boiling water, let steep for 5 min, then add to the custard.

(From Deborah Madison's book Vegetable Literacy)