One of my favorite culinary discoveries this summer has been using my cast iron skillet on the barbecue (have you tried it yet?).
It’s especially handy when it’s 100 degrees out and you don’t want to heat your home but you do want to enjoy some otherwise melty goodness – the non-perforated pan allows you to skip the oven while cooking en plein air without the mess.
And there’s nothing to it. The seasoned skillet sits directly on the grill and once it’s heated to the desired temperature you prepare your food the same way you would on the stove. You won’t get the grill marks of course but for certain foods that tend to spill and sputter it’s a great option.
This recipe is a perfect example. (Whenever cheese is involved, let’s face it, preservation is key. You want all of that goodness ending up on your plate – not down the grill gutter – especially those overhang crispy chewy bits, am I right?).
Cheese chatter aside, this recipe takes advantage of some seasonal gems ~ aubergine, tomato and basil all play starring roles here. It’s a delicious opportunity to celebrate your garden goodies (or poach some from your neighbor’s garden like I did) and eat the rainbow.
I don’t think you’ll have much trouble convincing anyone to try these … they taste just like mini lasagnas (the soft, non-bitter veg base mimics the noodle perfectly) — so good. Enjoy them as an appetizer or a light meal.
The toppings are fully adaptive so have fun, experiment and enjoy the beautiful outdoors!
Be sure to check out the Notes section in the recipe card below for tips, substitution ideas and best results.
- 2 handsome eggplant, cut into slices about ½" thick
- 1 cup of your favorite marinara or tomato sauce (enter "marinara" in search function to find mine)
- Sliced (or shredded) mozzarella cheese for each eggplant slice (or cheese of choice)
- Carton or bunch of cherry tomatoes or tomato variety of choice, sliced
- Bunch of fresh basil
- Olive oil & sea salt
- Lay sliced eggplant on paper towel lined tray - brush tops of slices generously with olive oil and a good sprinkle of sea salt. Allow eggplant to sweat as you prepare other ingredients.
- Place seasoned* cast iron skillet directly on grill - close lid and heat grill to medium-high temperature (about 300 F).
- Very carefully place eggplant slices, oil side down, on skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes before carefully flipping the slices over - the eggplant will have softened somewhat and taken on a somewhat golden color.
- Add a Tbsp or so of marinara sauce to the center of each eggplant slice and then cover with a slice of cheese (you can trim the cheese to size as desired) and some tomato slices. Close lid and reduce heat to minimum while cheese melts and aubergine cooks (about 5 minutes).
- Using well padded oven mitts remove skillet to a protected cooling area. Being mindful of continued heat of skillet, carefully remove eggplant slices to eating surface (a spatula works well). Top with fresh basil.
- See Notes below for best results.
Skillet Size: I'm using a relatively small (9") skillet in these photos - you could use a larger skillet (or two if you have) or work in batches.
Thickness of Eggplant Slices: if you cut the slices thinner than ½" the eggplant will be too soft and start to disintegrate. Better to work with slightly thicker pieces.
Fresh Basil: if you add the basil too soon it will burn (it happened to me a number of times) - you can tuck a few pieces under the cheese if you wish but mostly it works best to top the slices with it once cooked.
The Base: if tomato is not your thing, skip the marinara and consider a pesto base.
The Toppings: the sky is the limit! Switch up the greens (arugula, chard, kale, spinach and the full suite of garden herbs) add sliced veg or pops of fruit if you wish (arugula and cherry is a delicious combo). Try any number of cheese varieties (including vegan) or skip that element all together. Asiago, Parmesan, fontina and provolone would all be classic choices but you could also go with something deeper in the blue cheese family if you wish. We enjoyed a feta/kalamata/spinach variety the other night that was delicious. Peach and creamy ricotta are next. I also experimented with shredded cheese which allowed the marinara to poke through more creating a nice effect.