Eggplant Gratin with Herbs and Creme Fraiche

Late-summer crops are always full of memories.  Perhaps because I spent so much of my childhood summers in Louisiana with my grandparents, or perhaps just because summer cooking took over my grandmother’s life and filled her house with the steamy scents of roasting okra and frying catfish, or perhaps because summer afternoons were spent among endless jars of pickled okra, tomatoes, and peach preserves.  These are the taste memories that are strongest for me, and summer is the time I most often remember that I am a Southern girl, one who grew up on the sandy soil of Southwest Louisiana.

Not long ago, I discovered the lush and deeply evocative writing of Edna Lewis.  Her classic, The Taste of Country Cooking, is a gorgeously written history (in the guise of a cookbook) of a vanished time and place. Lewis, the granddaughter of freed slaves who went on to become a hugely successful New York city chef, recounts growing up in Freetown, Virginia—a place and time captured for us in the gorgeous prose and dreamy amber of her memory. Her recipes and stories are divided into seasons, and she recounts the joys of the first asparagus in spring—the taste must have been so alive, so green after months of winter when the ground yielded nothing fresh to eat. She talks about catching shad—fish that came from the ocean to the inland waterways to spawn in the spring. That was the only fish they ever had, and it only appeared in the spring. It was such a treat that it was served for breakfast. Summer brought watermelon cooled in the spring, and hand-churned ice cream. Fall brought earthy root vegetables and game, while winter meant long evenings near the fire and long-simmered holiday dinners. Each season had its rhythms, its joys, its celebrations, and its inevitable losses as one season waned to make room for the joys of another, the pain of loss forever salved by the glorious recompense of nature.

Read Edna Lewis and remember that summer is a season to be celebrated too.  As enchanted as I often am with the cuisines and dishes of far-off places, and while many writers assert that the United States has no food traditions or culture of its own, I am truly grateful to Miss Lewis for reminding me that I am from a place that has deep roots and taste memories, a place I am forever glad to call home.

Eggplant Gratin with Herbs and Creme Fraiche

2 medium to large eggplant, sliced 1/2″ thick

salt & pepper

olive oil

1 quart simple tomato sauce

3 Tbs. minced chives

3 Tbs. minced parsley

1 Tbs. thyme leaves

12 oz. creme fraiche or heavy cream

4 oz parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375.  Season eggplant slices with salt and pepper.  Brush lightly with olive oil.  Heat a large skillet or griddle pan over med-high heat and fry eggplant slices in batches until golden on both sides.  Set aside while you prepare the creme fraiche.  Place creme fraiche or cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce to about 1 cup, then stir in half of the grated parmesan and all of the chopped herbs.  Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.  Oil a 9″ casserole or gratin pan and place eggplant inside in a single layer.  Cover with a thin layer of simple tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan.  Make two more layers of eggplant and sauce, covering the top with tomato sauce.  Ladle over the reduced creme fraiche or cream and sprinkle on a final layer of parmesan cheese.  Bake uncovered until browned and bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.  Let rest briefly before serving.  Also delicious at room temperature.

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74 thoughts on “Eggplant Gratin with Herbs and Creme Fraiche

    • ha! thank you so much. I have family standing in line to kill me if I ever suggest opening a restaurant again . . .

  1. As always, yummy looking food, excellent writing, and a very touching piece. I definitely want to check out Edna Lewis now! Thank you!

  2. Yum that looks great. Does your simlpe tomato sauce have a recipe too> I want to try this next weekend when I’ll be with friends. I love the writing of this blog. Even though I am aware of the scenarios, it always brings a new smile to my face each time, as memories often do-

  3. Polly

    I may be an odd duck, but I’ve never not peeled eggplant. Each recipe over many years would state the peel was bitter, or tough, or some such, and the outer skin was to be peeled. So all that was a crock, right? Like I always say, ‘change is a GOOD thing.’

    • and I don’t think I’ve ever peeled it! change is certainly a good thing when it leads to less work!

  4. I just happened to buy a few nubia variety eggplants at the Burnet Road Farmer’s Market yesterday. The debut of this recipe is perfect timing!

    For those eggplant lovers reading here, try the Crisp Potato-Eggplant Tart recipe that’s on the Farmhouse Delivery website. Made that earlier this week and it turned out amazing! Reheats well too! — http://tiny.cc/yqxfc

  5. I loved this post, so glad I stumbled upon this blog!! As much as I love creme fraiche, I’ve been trying to find lower fat recipes so I substituted whole yogurt instead and sacrificed some texture, but it was still amazingly tasty!! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Love your blog, and I am going to make this recipe today! Of course there is always one ingredient from any recipe that I seem to be missing, so I’ll be running off to the store shortly. Got some lovely white and Asian eggplants from the farmers market over the weekend – I’m recently learning that I like eggplant. Creme fraiche is hard to find here, so I’ll be using heavy cream, and I’m also cobbling together a tomato sauce from some leftover spaghetti sauce and tomato paste. LOVE your photos! I agree, America does indeed have a rich food tradition – even if it is largely borrowed and cobbled together from other traditions. And that cookbook recommendation is definitely going on my list! I wonder if they have it at my library…..

  7. My husband doesn’t eat eggplant but I think if I put enough cheese on it he might give it try! Did you sweat the eggplant first? I didn’t see it in your notes but I may have missed it.

  8. I made this last night and it is now my family’s favorite eggplant dish. I had to blog about it and link back to your site. I came across Edna Lewis on another blog and made a variation of her Busy Day Cake, I must read her. Thank you your beautiful pictures and recipes. They inspire a sense of nostalgia for something I’m not sure I ever knew.

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  10. The gratin looks yummy! Love the idea of using eggplants, somehow I never thought of it! The photos are gorgeous. You have a wonderful blog, nice to meet you 🙂

  11. I discovered Miss Lewis years ago as well , Amd was captivated with the simplicity of her cooking of her stories. Her cookbook is a book of comfort and the joy of food! Not too long ago while browsing in a bookstore in Natchez . I found another cookbook by Miss Lewis. Can’t recall the name but it feature her and another chef….probably can google it . Anyway, thanks for the recipes from one Louisiana girl to another ! (:

  12. This was divine!! Only change I made was using light Boursin with Garlic and Herbs with some milk for the white sauce because that’s what I had on hand. I added a smashed garlic clove and some roasted red peppers to the sauce as well. I also did half with zucchini because I only had one eggplant. SO GOOD!! Thank you so much 🙂

  13. I also found this on Pinterest and had to take a peek as I make a delicious Eggplant Parmesan! I am definitely going to give this a try because it looks extra delicious and change IS good! And thanks to everyone for all your hints! Miss Lewis sounds enchanting and I am going to find that book! I’m also bookmarking the blog!

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  18. What an incredibly tasty meal!!! Made it the first time with heavy cream, the second with Greek yogurt; either way, it’s fabulous! I found slicing the eggplant 1/4″ instead of half worked better for cooking time. And I’ve never cooked eggplant with the peeling, but it was so tender (and no doubt more nutritious!) Thanks for sharing 😀 This Louisiana girl is DE-lighted 😉

  19. Has anyone tried adding an egg to the cream sauce, or any other tricks to thicken the dish? I’ve made it with cream and again with creme fraiche, and it was a little soupy.

  20. I’ve made this dish several times now… I love how easy it is to make. I’ve even made smaller batches and frozen them for those emergency days. I like the eggplant gratin over quinoa or topped with poached eggs. Actually, the combinations are endless. Thank you.

  21. Tried it and loved it! I’ll make this again and double it!
    I did not pre-cooked the cream, but left the eggplants and the tomato sauce cook a little longer.
    Thanks for the recipe!

  22. I made this last night for family dinner but I added 5 garlic cloves in the cream Fraiche and serve with pasta ! I’m going to make it again very soon 🙂 thank for the recipe !

    • That sounds good! The eggplant soaks up quite a bit, but it is pretty saucy. You could also serve on top of grilled bread.

  23. I love your pictures, your blouse! And any veggie dishes….this is one of our favorites in a little different recipe! Thanks for the elaborate pictures showing exactly how you made this.

  24. Such a beautiful and hearty looking dish! Bought the ingredients and making it this week. I am thrilled to give it a try. Thank you for blogging it. Happy eats!

  25. I just made this for dinner. I could have made a double batch and it would have all been gone. This is a new family favorite. Thanks!

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  27. Hi! I absolutely love this recipe! I make it often but not often enough to know it by heart. The link to the simple tomato sauce no longer works. Can you repost? Thanks!!!

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